I shall not let this opportunity pass without paying tribute to a great Welshman who, sadly, was buried a week ago. Cledwyn Hughes was a great Welshman because of his passion for Wales: in that, few were his equal and none his master. His passion for devolution was deep, but he was also proud to be British and I know that, were he here, he would argue strongly for the continued partnership between London and Cardiff in the post-devolution world.
Cledwyn Hughes was also a great Welshman because he was a true internationalist. He stood opposed to fascism in the 1930s because he knew that events on the continent of Europe were not about far-away lands of which we knew little, but had a direct bearing on all of us on these islands, too. He was a man who had the vision to see the importance of Europe for Britain's future. At the Welsh Labour party conference last week, Neil Kinnock lamented Cledwyn's passing and expressed his regret that he had never been made Foreign Secretary. I, too, feel that history would have been very different—and that that difference would have been to the benefit of all of Britain—had that appointment been made.
The past few days have been trying times for many people in Wales. I know that the House will want to express its sympathy and understanding for the many involved in farming in Wales who face desperate worry and uncertainty as a result of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Those involved expect the Government, Parliament and the Assembly to act, and act collectively we have. We have acted speedily to do what we can to restrict the spread of this infection. We have acted to give local authorities the powers that they need to restrict public access to footpaths and bridleways. Again, I urge the public to stay off those paths, and warn anyone who breaks the law that they will face the prospect of heavy fines.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for making the point about staying off footpaths. I am a keen walker, and was walking in Talyllyn in the constituency of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) only two weeks ago. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is important to emphasise that people should not only stay off the footpaths that are clearly marked, but refrain from crossing fields and other areas that may not be clearly marked as out of bounds?
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, and I am glad that he was walking in Wales some weeks ago.
We have started to allow the movement of healthy animals for slaughter and subsequent sale. The House will know that we must proceed with caution, so movements have been relatively limited thus far, and that we have acted to secure agrimonetary compensation for farmers. We have done so through a strong partnership between Westminster, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. All the Ministers involved—my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Carwyn Jones, Ross Finnie and Brid Rogers—deserve credit for their willingness to act swiftly and decisively.
The Secretary of State rightly refers to compensation and the European funding that is being accessed to help farmers. He will be very much aware that others directly associated with the agriculture industry such as slaughterhouses, hauliers and others will equally be hit and may be put out of business. Indeed, the tourist areas of Wales are being hit especially hard and bookings over Easter might be undermined by these developments. Is there any help at all that the Government foresee being available to those who are indirectly affected by this tragedy?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that in previous outbreaks of the disease farmers who lost their stock were directly compensated. There was a danger that their stock would infect other stock. Consequential compensation has not yet been considered, but I shall make sure that his points are put to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture.
At the weekend, I spoke to my brother-in-law, who is a farmer, and to other farmers about compensation. A number of people have been indirectly affected. Many of my constituents are small hoteliers. They have been drastically affected by the cancellation of the rugby match, which was entirely to do—[Interruption.] These are not small matters, as the cancellation meant losses of £5 million to the Welsh Rugby Union and considerably more to small hoteliers around Cardiff. If indirect compensation is considered, I hope that the Government will take account of matters such as the cancellation of major events, which have large knock-on effects for many small businesses.
I take my hon. Friend's point, but the compensation has so far been limited to those who are directly losing their stock, which would pose a danger to other stock. His points about Cardiff are well taken and I am sure that my colleagues in other Departments will take note of them. I do not underestimate the problems that have arisen because of the disease, which in some senses go far beyond the farms themselves, but compensation was not paid in respect of such matters in the past.
This morning, I heard that slaughterhouses are seeking to exploit the situation by reducing the price that they offer farmers. If that is happening, does the Secretary of State wholly deplore it, because farmers are in a desperate situation and they need to get their meat to slaughterhouses? Will the Government do everything they can to facilitate farmers getting their stock to slaughter where it is safe to do so, and, in the longer term, will he undertake to consider with his colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food reopening more small slaughterhouses so that animals do not have to be carted vast distances to slaughter?
The hon. Gentleman and Members from Welsh constituencies will be aware that a number of abattoirs have opened to receive such stock in north Wales, mid-Wales and south and west Wales. I take his point, which is valid and, if I may say so, very interventionist for a Conservative, but obviously we are all conscious of the problems that the disease has brought to our local communities—not simply those that are wholly rural, but mixed communities, to which I shall refer later.
I find it extraordinary that so many Conservative Members seem to think that there is something outrageous about the idea of strength going hand in hand with diversity. That is absolutely and completely what devolution is about: Welsh domestic approaches to Welsh domestic matters in a strong partnership with the United Kingdom Government.
There is a corollary to that. Serious politicians spend their energies tackling problems that they have an ability to influence, and that is the approach Taken by the Labour party in the National Assembly. The Welsh nationalists, Plaid Cymru, seem to have other ideas. They see the Assembly as little more than a platform for their own ideas. They have nothing of substance to offer by way of an alternative to the programme being implemented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) and his Administration, but that is for them to deal with in the Assembly.
The Conservatives, too, have their plans. No doubt they will make plenty of attacks on the Assembly Administration in this debate. They seem unable to face up to the fact that devolution is here and that it works. They will get over it sooner or later—probably later. Much later, I expect.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way with his usual courtesy. Does he accept that it is not only Conservatives who criticise the operations of the Welsh Assembly? His colleague, the First Secretary, staled in the Western Mail on 10 October 2000:
The National Assembly is very unstable and far too prone to concentrating on procedural points of order, votes of no confidence and petty wrangling, instead of getting on with the job in hand—that of making decisions.
Does the Secretary of State agree with that?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, many Conservatives were involved in such activity. My right hon. Friend was referring to the need for stability in the National Assembly. The partnership in the Assembly between my party and the Liberal Democrats exists to ensure stability.
This Wales day debate will be of considerable interest to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as a Welsh person. It marks another milestone in the history of the new, post-devolution Wales. It offers us, as Members of the House of Commons, a chance to look back at a full year of devolution. It gives all of us an opportunity to review the work of the UK Government, and to consider what might happen in the year ahead.
I am, of course, fully confident that the people of Wales, when they come to decide will endorse the Government's record. Some figures published in the past few weeks might help the House to understand why I am so confident about that outcome.
First, the new earnings survey published in December showed that the earnings of full-time employees in Wales rose by 4 per cent. between April 1999 and April 2000. That was the second highest figure for any part of the UK, and it compares with an increase of just 1 per cent. in London and 2.6 per cent. in the south-east. The reason for that increase is clear: the national minimum wage. To emphasise the point, the same survey showed that the earnings of adult women in Wales rose not by 4 per cent., but by 5 per cent. The minimum wage has helped more than 80,000 Welsh people, which represents almost one in 10 of Welsh employees. It is a pay rise from the Government for all those people in Wales. Only today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced a further increase in the minimum wage: another pay rise for many thousands of people in Wales. As I said to the Welsh Grand Committee recently, that Labour pay rise was for years resisted by the Conservative party.
I should also like to draw the House's attention to the policy of the Liberal Democrats. They thought that it was wrong that Welsh employees, especially Welsh women, had such pay increases thanks to the minimum wage. Their policy was—or is, unless it has changed—a regionally varied minimum wage, which would mean lower wages for Wales.
That is not the case. I have never supported a regional minimum wage. I believe that the minimum wage is being misused by powerful companies in, for example, the health care industry. They go down to the lowest common denominator and take on new employees at the lowest possible level, which did not happen before, when they were in the national health service, for instance.
I am grateful for that intervention, but I am not much clearer about the policy of the Liberal Democrats on the national minimum wage. At least the Conservative shadow spokesman for trade and industry said that, although his party had misgivings, it welcomed today's announcement. But there we are. We shall wait and see.
After the earnings figures published in December came the employment figures. I know that many people in Wales still face the threat of redundancy, and at least 300 of my constituents are threatened with the loss of their jobs with Corus.
On Friday, along with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West, I met representatives of all the steel plants affected by the company's proposals. We listened not just to the expressions of justified anger and upset—how else would we expect workers at some of the most efficient steel plants in the world to react when faced with closure announcements?—but to people who were determined to do all that they could to keep as many jobs as possible at those plants.
Steel workers at Shotton are very grateful to my right hon. Friend and his Parliamentary Private Secretary for what they have tried to do to help them in the corridors of power, notwithstanding the 400 redundancies that we face at that plant.
Are the Government considering any measures to take into account the comparatively high wages that young redundant steel workers have been earning? Will it be possible to make up the difference when those workers have new jobs?
My right hon. Friend has worked hard on behalf of his constituents at Shotton. As he knows, the Government are considering a variety of packages. He will also know that, as we speak, the trade unions are working out alternatives to the Corns proposals. It would be wrong for me to go into detail until those alternatives had been put to the management.
The trade unions' pitch to Corns is firmly based on the commercial realities of the steel industry. We in the Government and the Assembly are pledged to do all that we can, within the tight constraints of the coal and steel community treaties and codes, to assist them. It is a tragedy that Corns has so far refused to engage constructively with either the unions or the Government, but I hope the whole House will join me in urging the chief executive, the chairman, Sir Brian Moffat, and his colleagues to listen to the unions' commercially based proposals.
My right hon. Friend may be aware that the chief executive and chairman gave evidence to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs on Thursday. When my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) suggested to the chairman, Sir Brian Moffat, that the Bryngwyn plant was profitable, the chairman stated that he had no knowledge of its profitability. Does that not demonstrate the incompetence of senior management who are prepared to shut a plant regardless of whether it is profitable?
That is clearly of considerable concern; but what concerns all of us who represent steel constituencies in Wales such as Ebbw Vale. Shotton, Gorseinon and Llanwern is the fact that steel plants that are among the most efficient and productive in Europe, if not the most efficient, are to close or at least partially close. That strikes me as a national tragedy from a Welsh and indeed a British point of view.
I am sure most Members support all that my right hon. Friend has said. Does he agree that if Sir Brian Moffat proceeds with his proposals, does not listen to the unions and decimates the steel industry, the knighthood that he received for services to the industry should be withdrawn?
I am not in a position to comment on Sir Brian's honour. I am much more interested in what he is proposing to do to 3,000 people in Wales, their families and their communities. I hope he will listen very carefully to the alternatives that the unions and others will put to him in the next week or two.
Steel, however, is not the only industry in Wales. In recent weeks we have seen Ford's £240 million investment in the Bridgend engine works, which will create or secure 500 jobs in a leading-edge technology. Investment of £17 million is going to Mostyn docks in north Wales to secure 85 new jobs. There are 100 new jobs at IQE in Cardiff, announced in December, and 83 at Surface Technology Systems in Newport. Moreover, 1,700 jobs are to be created by BAE, and 1,000 are to be safeguarded at General Domestic Appliances. There are to be 400 jobs at Lloyds TSB, 400 at On:Line Finance and 230 at Paramount Food. There will be 264 new high-tech jobs at Wireless Systems International in my constituency, and 110 at Pure Wafer Ltd.
Manufacturing output and manufacturing investment are rising. There have been difficult times, but the climate, including the relative exchange rate between the pound and the euro, is improving. Manufacturing output is up 3.5 per cent. Exports are up 9 per cent. in the past year alone. Inward investment since 1997 is worth £2.2 billion.
Overall, the increase in jobs in Wales has outstripped any losses by 17,000 in the past year. That rate of growth is greater than that in the UK as a whole. It is greater even than that in London or the south-east of England, but jobs are not the last piece of good news for the Welsh economy. Last week, the Office for National Statistics published new data on regional GDP. I know that those data are often subject to change and reassessment, but it is only fair that I quote it, given that the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) has been so happy to use it in the past few weeks. He said:
The latest regional estimates, published on 27 June by the Office for National Statistics…show a decline in GDP per head in Wales relative to that of the whole UK".—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 29 November 2000, Vol. 357, c. 216WH.]
Perhaps he might wish to use any speech that he might make this afternoon to update the House. The latest figures, published on 27 February, show that Wales's relative share of GDP has risen from 80.2 per cent. of the UK average in 1998—itself a figure that was revised upwards—to 80.5 per cent. in 1999.
What matters to our constituents? Do more jobs matter to them? We are getting that. Does better pay matter to them? We are getting that. Does more prosperity matter to them? We are getting that. Do low interest rates matter to them? Interest rates are falling. Does low inflation matter to them, too? Inflation excluding mortgage rates is at its lowest since records began; including mortgage costs, it is enjoying its longest run at low levels for many decades.
I know that many in our rural communities feel that they are suffering from particular economic stress—something more than just the immediate effects of the foot and mouth outbreak. Labour Members are more than aware of that feeling. Mine is a mixed constituency: I represent farmers as well as steel workers in the House. Overall, the Labour party represents more rural and semi-rural constituencies in the House than all the other parties in Wales combined; indeed, it represents more such constituencies than all the other parties in the UK combined.
We—the UK Government and the National Assembly—are acting to assist rural communities, and not just through the £15 billion that is paid in subsidy to farming throughout the UK every year. The Assembly is acting in partnership with the Strategic Rail Authority to improve rural rail-bus links and to restore passenger services to the Vale of Glamorgan.
The hon. Gentleman is not prepared to accept that Wales is getting better—in its economy, prosperity, jobs and in the relative way in which people live in Wales. That is typical of the Welsh nationalist party. All the time, it grumbles and whinges about what the economy is like when everyone knows, in his constituency, in my constituency—in the constituencies of all of us who represent Welsh seats—that things are getting an awful lot better.
Unlike me, the Secretary of State was not, I believe, born in Wales. Will he, in his great concern for the farming community in Wales, dissociate himself from the remarks of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), who stated on "Farming Today" on 22 March:
Of course there are farmers in serious difficulties, but I believe they have greatly exaggerated their case. And much of their case is based on distortions or plain untruths.
If that were not good enough, he was also quoted in Farmers Weekly on 4 February as saying:
And the main reason why there's a large number of suicides among farmers is because they have shotguns handy.
Does the Secretary of State dissociate himself from those remarks?
First, I should like to say that I most certainly was born in Wales. I was born in the parish of Llanbradach, near Usk, which at the time, I suppose, was in Monmouthshire—although in out hearts that was a Welsh county. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) has just returned to the Chamber and can reply to the hon. Gentleman's comments after we inform him of them.
The Assembly's rural development plan has been accepted by the European Commission, so in future subsidy payments to agriculture will be modulated, with additional United Kingdom Exchequer funds to strengthen not only farming but rural communities more generally. It is of course fallacious to suggest that measures such as the children's tax credit or the minimum wage work only to the benefit of urban areas. As I have already said, most Members in Wales represent mixed constituencies. I know that those measures are as important in rural parts of Torfaen as they are elsewhere.
In last year's Welsh affairs debate, I was able to tell the House that the Government had agreed to establish in statute a Children's Commissioner for Wales.
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of the serious crisis hitting so many parts of Wales, may I tell him something? No one would begrudge the full compensation that the farming community will receive for the nightmare that it is going through, but if we are in the business of compensating all the citizens of Wales who are suffering severe losses because of no fault of their own, should we not also be thinking of compensation for steel workers who may be losing their livelihoods, many of whom will probably never work again? I am told that, in redundancy payments and other compensation, they will be receiving about one fifth of what Dutch steel workers would receive. In this era of compensation, with all the incidental losses being suffered by people outside the farming industry, should we not be thinking of full compensation for steel workers?
My hon. Friend is right to compare what would happen to a steel worker's family with what would happen to a farmer's family when we hit times as bad as we are experiencing now. Some of his comments have probably dealt with the points made by the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis).
As I said, the Government agreed to establish a children's commissioner. That announcement reflected the importance of this House and this Parliament in passing primary legislation for the people of Wales. Since our last Wales day debate, my office has overseen the parliamentary passage of new Welsh law not only on the children's commissioner, but on care standards more generally, on education, on training and on local government.
When we first dealt with the issue of the children's commissioner, we were limited to using the legislative vehicle then available—which has become the Care Standards Act 2000. That necessarily led to the creation of a commissioner with a limited role. However, I am pleased to say that, as we all know, our further measure was welcomed on both sides of the House and quickly passed into law. I am very grateful for the co-operation that was shown by all parties on the children's commissioner.
Today I am in an even happier position. On 1 March—less than one year after our announcement in last year's debate—the new commissioner took up his post. A Bill to widen the scope of his work to the full canvas of the Assembly's work is now being considered in another place, having completed its passage through this place in a matter of weeks, with, as I said, the co-operation of all parties. This year, Parliament has debated not only the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill, but Welsh aspects of the modernisation of the national health service.
As hon. Members may recall, last year the present Conservative spokesman on Welsh Affairs, the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) told the House:
Labour has also failed to ensure that Wales receives its funding from the European Union.
Moreover, despite the Prime Minister's promises, the hon. Gentleman added:
Labour is refusing to give a commitment to secure the extra funding that Wales needs."—[Official Report, 2 March 2000; Vol. 345, c. 649.]
The hon. Gentleman was, of course, referring to the funding of the objective 1 programme. As the House knows, objective 1 is an opportunity for west Wales and the valleys to catch up some of the economic ground that they lost in the 18 years of the Conservative Government. It must
therefore have been something of an embarrassment to the hon. Gentleman when, in last July's spending review, we did indeed fully fund the objective 1 programme.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State did not quite understand the point being made not only by me but by other hon. Members—those in other parties, as well as those in the Conservative party. We were talking not only about the European Union funding, but about the additional funding that was supposed to come from the United Kingdom Government. There was no additional funding from the Government; the only additional funding comes from the existing block grant to the Welsh Assembly.
The hon. Gentleman is mistaken; he knows that almost £500 million over the next three years will be additional to the Barnett block. If that is not additional, I do not know what is. He does not understand the funding arrangement. As he will be aware, both when the Conservative Government were in power and when I was a Northern Ireland Minister dealing with such matters, all the money involved in objective 1 structural funding—in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or England—had to be found from the block itself.
The hon. Gentleman obviously does not understand, first, that the block has become much bigger in the past year—it is the biggest settlement ever paid to Wales by a United Kingdom Government—or, secondly, that between £400 million and £500 million will be paid over and above the Barnett formula in the next three years, so that we can draw down those funds. That represents an enormous development in the way in which public finances work. Any hon. Member—from whichever party—who suggests that that does not represent a major surplus for Wales does not understand the nature of that funding.
I understand the nature of the funding, and I welcome part of what the Secretary of State has just said. He has acknowledged that until now, not one brass farthing of European money over and above the Barnett block has come to Wales or any other part of the United Kingdom that is supposed to receive money from Europe. Will he acknowledge that, whereas we are supposed to receive £180 million a year for objective 1 from Europe, we do not, in fact, get that much in addition to the Barnett formula? We receive a sum above the Barnett level, but not the full £180 million—let alone the necessary match funding. That is why expenditure on education in Wales is being increased by a lower proportion than expenditure on education in England; the money has to be diverted to provide the match funding.
Obviously I have to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. Here are the figures: the additional funding in 2001–02—the new financial year, which begins in a few weeks—will be £113 million; the year after, it will be £148 million; and the year after that, it will be £160 million. That amounts to £421 million in total over those three years. The point is that in the past, all the money had to be found from the block itself, but those sums are additional to the block. That is a major change in the way in which we deal with public finances. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that if the United Kingdom Government were not prepared to pay that money, the same amount would come from money raised in Wales alone? I very much doubt whether it would.
I suppose that we have heard the nearest that we shall ever get to an apology from the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) for supporting a lie in the Welsh Assembly just over a year ago. It is just as well that that did not happen in the House. Will my right hon. Friend invite the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in Plaid Cymru to stop the continual whingeing that we have heard for so long, support the initiatives that objective 1 status can produce and start to help to improve the economy of Wales, instead of damaging it by continually discouraging people from proposing schemes?
My right hon. Friend is right. There was a lot of fuss and bother about whether we would get that money, but we did get it, and in a special way. However, all our energies in Wales were spent on arguing with each other about whether the money would come, rather than on preparing the schemes for the objective 1 areas, which are so important. We must not fall into that trap again. The money is there, the will is there, and it is now up to everyone in Wales—from north to south and from east to west—to encourage the partnerships and to ensure that we spend the money wisely.
As I said, it must have been something of an embarrassment to the hon. Member for North Dorset that the funding was found. He denies that he was embarrassed by his failure to understand the issues, but the money is there. His embarrassment could only have been compounded when Conservative central office denounced that decision, and the rest of the spending review, as a "public spending binge" and as a return to "tax and spend".
The briefing for Members of Parliament—it was for Conservative Members, I hasten to add, but I am pleased to say that a copy has also found its way to me—goes on to say that there is a £16 billion spending gap between what the Conservatives say is affordable and what Labour plans to spend. However, Wales will suffer badly if the Conservatives ever get their chance to close this "gap", because the 2000 spending review increased Welsh spending through the block faster than Government spending as a whole. The Welsh block will rise by about £2 billion over the next three years. That means more money for schools and more money for health. Welsh services dealt with outside the block, such as the police, have also done well, so there is also more money for policing in Wales.
How do the Tories propose to fill that gap? I know: they will cut, cut and cut. They will cut our schools budget, they will cut our health budget and they will cut our police budgets. In Wales, they will slash the very objective 1 budget that the hon. Member for North Dorset commended only a year ago. What else could we expect from a party that has swung so decisively against Europe?
Yesterday's speech by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was condemned by the Financial Times today as
as disingenuous as it is distasteful".
The reality, as the newspaper makes clear, is that the Tory anti-European bandwagon is now hurtling towards the precipice marked "Withdrawal". As the newspaper's leader column adds:
Short of British withdrawal from the EU, the Tories are making promises that cannot be delivered.
Withdrawal from Europe would represent an economic and political disaster for the whole United Kingdom, and for Wales in particular; we would suffer most. Conservative prejudice and intolerance would leave thousands out of work, close off our export markets and destroy our agriculture.
Of course, the Tories' intolerance finds its echo in the words of Councillor Seimon Glyn. [Interruption.] I thought that Plaid Cymru Members would be upset by this; they do not like to hear about him. His view is that 80 per cent. of his fellow countrymen and countrywomen, such as me, speak a foreign language, and that incomers from Chester need to be "monitored and controlled". I notice that the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones), the leader of the Welsh National party, is not here today to talk about these issues. The only difference is that while the Tories want to withdraw from Europe, the nationalists want to withdraw from Britain. Of course, many nationalists must want the Tories to be returned to power, because both parties have a common interest in undermining the devolution settlement.
I am rising to the right hon. Gentleman's bait on the question of what Seimon Glyn did or did not say. However, did the right hon. Gentleman read what the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) said in The Western Mail on Saturday, in which he acknowledged that there was a problem with support for the Welsh language? The silence from the Labour Government on that matter is deafening.
My right hon. Friend was speaking from Zagreb. I happened to be speaking in Swansea, where the Labour party conference was meeting, and the view from Swansea is very different from the view from Zagreb.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the 1980s, Cymdeithas yr laith Gymraeg used the well-known phrase, "Heb waith, dim iaith"? This Government have done more to create work in Welsh language areas and to preserve the language than any Plaid Cymru carping could do.
The Secretary of State has misrepresented the Conservative party's policies in a way that is unworthy of him. Would he now care to comment on the Labour party's stewardship of the health service in Wales? Since the election, in-patient waiting lists have gone up by nearly 15 per cent., out-patient waiting lists have almost doubled and the number of those waiting for more than six months to see a consultant has gone up by 700 per cent. Will he comment on those figures?
I was wondering when the Conservative party was going to attack the National Assembly. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the national health service in Wales will, I think, receive an extra £1.3 billion over the next three years. That is the biggest increase ever, and the service treats more people in Wales than ever before.
As for the speech by the leader of the hon. Gentleman's party over the weekend, Welsh people are disturbed by such comments. The devolution settlement, which we all believe is the way ahead, could be seriously undermined by such an attitude to the European Union. Objective 1 European structural funding is vital to ensure that our gross domestic product and economy improve. What would happen if we withdrew from the EU?
Conservatives suggest the next best thing. They never have a warm word for what comes out of Europe. Their spokesmen, from party leader down, have nothing good to say about the EU, even though the lives of millions of people in Wales will be improved by EU structural funding.
Xenophobia about all things foreign, whether that is expressed towards a foreigner from the EU or a foreigner from England, undermines the devolution settlement and the basic tolerance of the Welsh people. Were the Conservatives to win the election—which they will not—I suspect that this would be the last Adjournment debate on Welsh affairs. It is their policy that all Members of Parliament should cease to be equal. According to the leader of the Conservative party, it is their priority to strip Welsh and Scottish Members of Parliament of their rights to vote on many matters that come before the House. For the first time, we would have different classes of Members of Parliament. The Conservatives are supposed to be the party of the Union, but on English laws they plan to have nothing but English votes.
We hear English nationalism from the Conservative party and Welsh nationalism from Plaid Cymru, but none of that coincides with what the Welsh people want. They want to be part of the United Kingdom, and they want their representatives to play a full role in the House of Commons. They do not want to be in a Wales that is split off and cut away from the rest of the UK.
It is right. As soon as we try to make Members of Parliament who represent different parts of the UK have different rights and different ways of operating, we undermine the basis of the House of Commons. The vast majority of hon. Members represent English constituencies. If they all voted together, they would easily outvote Members of Parliament who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The House has never divided the way in which it works between different parts of the UK. If that were to happen, it would be a recipe for the break-up of the UK and the House of Commons. Even such an illustrious person as yourself, Madam Deputy Speaker, would find it difficult to rule whether this Adjournment debate was a Welsh or a UK matter.
Would turkeys vote for Christmas? Would the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) or the hon. Member for North Dorset vote to put themselves out of a job by backing such proposals? If the answer is yes, perhaps they should explain their participation in a debate on Welsh affairs, not to mention their participation in our proceedings on the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill, when Members of Parliament who represented Scottish, Northern Irish and English constituencies—including even hon. Members from constituencies in Lancashire and Dorset—could come to the House of Commons, participate in the debate and vote on an exclusively Welsh Bill. As soon as we start dividing up matters for debate, that will be the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] The people of Wales created the Assembly by voting for it. Conservative Members should understand that a combination of their policy and that of the party that wants complete independence from the United Kingdom would undermine the devolution settlement and the unity of the nation.
I make two points to the hon. Gentleman. First, two Conservative Prime Ministers between 1979 and 1997 represented minority Governments. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman himself was elected with a majority of just over 200, and I suspect that more people voted against him than voted for him.
If the Conservatives' answer to my earlier question is no, we are clearly about to witness another of the policy U-turns that has disfigured their stumbling election campaign over the past few weeks. I await further discussion of that matter. Meanwhile, Labour Members intend to preserve the foundation of democratic rule—the notion that all Members of the House, be they ever so mighty or ever so low, be they Welsh, English or from Northern Ireland, have an equal vote.
The past year has been something of a roller-coaster ride for us all. Those who predicted the death of Welsh parliamentary politics because of the creation of the National Assembly must be feeling rather foolish today. As we have seen, our debates on Welsh matters are as lively as ever, whether they take place on the Floor of the House, in Standing Committee or in the Welsh Grand Committee, yet that has all happened at a time when Wales has had its own political voice in the form of the National Assembly. It is not wishful thinking on my part to state that devolution has strengthened the United Kingdom; it is everyday experience. If devolution is to grow and flourish, we must all work constructively with the new institution. Labour Members are fully committed to doing just that.
Our vision is of a strong and confident Wales within a strong and confident United Kingdom. We want a Wales where we enjoy high-quality, efficient public services that are accountable to the people of Wales, and where jobs, education and opportunity are available to all. We want a Wales where we are not afraid of our European partners or our European role, but willing and able to play our part at the very heart of European decision making, both through the United Kingdom and with our own voice where appropriate. Above all, our vision is of a tolerant and inclusive Wales that values all its peoples as its greatest assets. In the past year we have moved closer to all those goals, and in the year ahead I know that we can move closer still.
It is a delight for me to take part in this annual St. David's day debate. Mostly, we get no delivery from the Government, but we have late delivery of this debate, albeit by only a few days this year.
I share the Secretary of State's sentiments about the late Cledwyn Hughes. He was a Commons man and a Lords man, actively involved in both Houses. He was a parliamentarian for half a century, and there are few people about whom we can say that. He was passionate about Wales, Britain and politics, and politics is the less for his passing. I was in Ynys Môn on the day that he died, and the people there showed genuine sadness at the news of his passing I understand that Holyhead was at a standstill during his funeral, which is a tremendous tribute and mark of respect for a man who loved politics. I believe that politics loved him.
On those matters where the Government are prepared to listen, there is tremendous support from Opposition Members. Indeed, during the current appalling outbreak of foot and mouth, we have fully supported the Government's measures to contain that dreadful disease, which is blighting an industry that was already reeling. We have also demonstrated our support for the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill, which was recently passed by the House of Commons and is now proceeding through the House of Lords. We wish that Bill well; we want it to be on the statute book as soon as possible.
However, in many other areas, we are unable to support the Government because they simply do not listen. They are all spin and no delivery. That was reflected in far too many comments mile by the Secretary of State for Wales today. I am amazed that he did not claim credit for Welsh rugby—that he did not spin the news that, when Wales played England this year, Wales came second, which was tremendous news for Welsh rugby. He is all spin and no delivery, which is why many people are becoming increasingly fed up with the Government.
Last Thursday saw two by-elections. One was in the constituency of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), now present; the seat was retained by the Conservatives. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) is looking rather shifty. There was a by-election in his constituency in which the seat was retained by the Conservatives with a swing of 12.5 per cent.
I take offence at that remark uttered in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman is being highly disingenuous. He knows well that the by-election in my constituency arose in extremely unusual circumstances, not the least of which was the tragic death of an old friend of mine—politics apart—Councillor Ray Davies.
I always welcome the hon. Gentleman's interventions. He is right in what he says about Ray's passing. None the less, the seat was won by the Conservatives with a total vote of 67 per cent. We shall miss the hon. Gentleman's characteristic interventions in debates after the general election, when Susan Inkin will take over from him.
I have been greatly entertained in the past few days by speculation about who is to run the Labour party's campaign in Wales. On 26 February the Western Mail carried the headline "Hain carries flag but is he strong enough?" He might be the weakest link; the next day, the headline read "Murphy—not Hain—to spearhead election drive". In only 24 hours, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) was "slapped down" and put in his place.
On 26 February, the Western Mail said that Labour would turn to the hon. Member for Neath
to spearhead its general election battle in Wales amid fears that the Tories will take key marginal seats.
Labour fears it could lose to the Conservatives
in the Vale of Clwyd—the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Mr. Ruane) is missing—and in Conwy. The hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) is also absent: both are probably in their constituencies campaigning. It is good to see other hon. Members whose constituencies were mentioned in the article in the Chamber today. They include the hon. Members for Monmouth and for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence), whose seats the hon. Member for Neath thinks will be lost by Labour. The hon. Gentleman also warns that the constituencies of Cardiff, North and Vale of Glamorgan might be lost to the Conservatives.
The hon. Gentleman did not give a comprehensive list, having missed out the constituencies of Clwyd, West and of Cardiff, Central, both of which we believe we will win. Nor was mention made of other seats that we believe we will get, including the Liberal Democrat seats of Brecon and Radnorshire and of Montgomeryshire, as well as Ynys Môn. No doubt, the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) is in his constituency today, leaving only three of the four Plaid Cymru Members pre sent during a Welsh affairs debate that we have only once a year.
The Labour campaign might show itself willing to rob Peter to pay Paul, which brings me to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). He is the First Secretary and self-styled First Minister, which in Welsh is Prime Minister. As for the House, he is the First Secretary. He said:
Let Labour carry on building the house of socialism in Wales and Westminster … We can deliver so much more for the people of Wales if we are given another chance at the General Election.
Labour will not be given another chance at the general election.
I direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to his parliamentary profile. It chronicles that when he stood in a by-election in Wales, the Conservative vote slumped from 9,000 to 5,000. It records his memorable remarks in 1992, when with confidence he forecast that at the next election the map of Wales would be bluer. Will he remind us what happened in 1992 and in 1997 to Conservative Members?
I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not want to address himself to his recent comments about farming, which is in such a plight.
I remember well the by-election that I fought in Pontypridd in 1989: the Conservatives went on to win the 1992 general election. We look forward to the next general election, whenever the Prime Minister decides to call it.
There is no doubt that the
Labour Party in Wales is in 'crisis', and in … need of regeneration.
I am sure that it agrees about that, and that there is
a stark warning in Wales in
the Labour heartlands. I am sure that the Labour party would agree that that is so. It has
been too complacent for too long
and it must open up its "style of politics". I am sure that it would agree with that as well. Labour needs
to regenerate the party otherwise
will pay the price in the future.
I assume that that refers to the general election that we are about to have. Labour Members have not intervened to attack that view because, of course, those—
I notice that the hon. Gentleman missed my constituency from his list. It has not been in Conservative hands for more than 100 years.
On support for the Labour party, I remind the hon. Gentleman of an opinion poll that received little publicity last week. It was conducted by National Opinion Poll for HTV, and it gave Labour 52 per cent., Conservatives 19 per cent. and Plaid Cymru 14 per cent. It anticipated a general election result for the Labour party in 2001 almost identical to that in 1997.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to get real. The day before the referendum in Wales, we were told by the outcome of an opinion poll that it would be won by 2:1. Instead, it was won by 0.6 per cent. if the hon. Gentleman's belief in opinion polls gets him to sleep at night, and perhaps during the day as well, I am only too happy that he believes in them. We do not. We believe in the polls that have only recently taken place. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Vale of Glamorgan, where there was a swing of 12.5 per cent. to the Conservatives.
Given the potent intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and the subsequent challenge by my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), does my hon. Friend agree that it is shocking that the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) has still failed either to apologise for or to explain his calumny upon Welsh farmers in accusing them of exaggeration, distortions and plain untruths, and in suggesting that the suicide rate among them is attributable merely to the ready availability of shotguns? Should not his speech be the occasion for a frank apology?
I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) is able to speak in the debate. That will give him an opportunity to apologise for the views that he expressed on the "Today" programme, which I thought were appalling. An entire industry deserves an apology from him.
As I was saying, it is interesting that no Government Member condemned the remarks about the Labour party being in disarray.
In a moment, once I have finished this.
I quoted the words of the hon. Member for Neath himself, so it is not surprising that his responsibility for leading the campaign in Wales has rapidly been taken away from him. I shall now give way to the hon. Member for Newport, West who, I am sure, will wish to apologise.
May I inform the hon. Gentleman that, as far as I know, I have never spoken on the "Today" programme about farming? However, I have talked about the farming crisis on many occasions. It is as well to remember that I would not withdraw a single word that I have said. The House should know that, on television yesterday, someone said that there were 10 farming suicides every week. Every suicide is a terrible tragedy for the family involved. However, that number is wrong, as there were 70 farming suicides last year—which is 70 too many. In the past four years of crisis, there have been fewer suicides than there were in each year of prosperity between 1989 and 1993.
It is disgraceful that Opposition Members and certain other people wish to turn personal tragedies into events that invite photo-opportunities. There is a crisis in the farming industry, but a sequence of misinformation has been given. I am happy to defend everything that I have said.
I shall make a little more progress and, I promise, give way to the hon. Gentleman a bit later.
It is interesting that the Secretary of State made no reference to another matter. Should the nightmare happen and—if everyone can bear with me for a moment—incredible as it sounds, the Labour party wins the next general election, what would happen to the position of Secretary of State for Wales? This morning, I enjoyed a little tussle on Radio Wales with the Under-Secretary of State for Wales when we discussed what would happen after the election. We already know that an incoming Conservative Government will create the position of Secretary of State for Wales, and that that will not be merged with responsibilities for Scotland, England or Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State will have extra responsibility in recognition of the post-devolution position.
However, I was unable to get any guarantee whatever from the Under-Secretary of State for Wales that an incoming Labour Government would ensure that the position of Secretary of State for Wales would be retained. From the silence of the Secretary of State, I take it that the Government have already written it off, he is already looking to retire if the Labour party win the election and Wales will lose its voice in the Cabinet. All that I can say is that Wales will be the poorer after the election if Labour wins, given that the Secretary of State is not prepared to say that there will be a position of Secretary of State for Wales. It sounds as if he already has inside information that that position will be merged and that Wales will lose its separate and special voice.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was tempting me. He knows that neither my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales nor I determine Cabinet positions; that is a matter for the Prime Minister. The hon. Gentleman is also aware that there are no plans to change the position of Secretary of State for Wales and that it is based firmly on the devolution settlement, which was voted on by the people of Wales. I am delighted, although rather bemused, by his conversion and U-turn to the new position, as his party has not held that view for some time. To me, the part-time position of Secretary of State that is proposed by the Conservative party is rather peculiar.
It is amazing that the Secretary of State says that the position is in the gift of the Prime Minister. I spoke to my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) about that position and we have now made our view clear. It is well known that the Labour party is looking seriously at merging England, Wales and Scotland together in a Ministry of the Union. Even worse is the rumour that the Minister responsible for that will be the Deputy Prime Minister—let us have one fright at a time. I am amazed that the Secretary of State for Wales has not even discussed the matter with the Prime Minister, or if he has discussed it, that the Prime Minister has not reassured him. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House—
Die hon. Gentleman is aware that there is a voice around the Cabinet table representing Wales—mine. That has been the case since the establishment of the role after devolution. Let me make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that, in the referendum and by the devolution settlement, the people of Wales indicated that there should be a voice in Westminster and in the Cabinet through the position that I hold. Do the Conservatives intend to have someone to shadow me as the Secretary of State?
It looks likely that there will be no Secretary of State for Wales if there is a Labour Government after the general election. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot speak up for his own job around the Cabinet table, I wonder whether he can speak up at the Cabinet table for the jobs of other people in Wales.
I enjoyed sitting around the shadow Cabinet table last Wednesday. I lock forward to sitting around the shadow Cabinet table in the future, and after the general election I look forward to sitting around the Cabinet table as Secretary of State for Wales or whichever position the leader of my party as Prime Minister asks me to take. At the next election—
So many people feel let down by the Government, although that is hard to believe from the speech that we heard from the Secretary of State. Students feel badly let down by the introduction of tuition fees and the disappearance of their grants. Pensioners feel let down, after the 75p increase that they w ere given last year. Motorists are now paying higher taxation on their fuel than in any other country in Europe, and petrol prices are among the highest in the world.
Stealth taxes have been imposed—on average, £670 a year for a family living in Wales. Council tax has increased well above the rate of inflation. The Government clearly do not understand the countryside or farming.
I shall give way in a moment, once I have made a little more progress.
There are so many people who feel badly let down, but in no industry more than in farming. In 1996–97, the average income in the farming industry was £23,200. In 1998–99, it was £5,800 and it has now fallen below £5,000. The Welsh Institute of Rural Studies has predicted that the average net income will be £4,100. We have just heard a statement on the minimum wage. An average farm income of £4,100 represents £1 an hour for a farmer working 60 hours a week, and we know that most farmers do much more than that.
One in five farms is trading at a loss. There is a crisis in farming. Getting new entrants into farming is incredibly difficult. The average age of farmers is 58. In Wales, agriculture is vital, yet four fifths of the farming land is in less-favoured areas. As rules and regulations increase and costs, including hygiene costs, go up, there is enormous extra pressure on farmers.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for eventually giving way.
On competence in farming and the question of who deserves an apology, the House should contrast the way in which the current Government have acted on the dreadful disease that is now affecting British agriculture with the way in which the previous Government acted on BSE. This Government have responded promptly, effectively and efficiently, whereas the previous Government did not act promptly and shamefully exported BSE around the world. When people in farming make that contrast, they will have no doubt about who understands farming.
I suspect that not one single farmer will support what the hon. Gentleman has just said. Who is playing politics with farming now? We have given full support to the Government on the measures that they have introduced to tackle foot and mouth disease. We did not get such support from the Labour party when it was in opposition. Instead, it cruelly used the issue of BSE.
Farmers are asking not for special treatment, but for equal treatment. That is what they will get with the implementation of "A Fair Deal for Farmers", which is part of the common-sense revolution package that will be delivered by an incoming Conservative Government. We shall carefully consider the standard of meat that is imported into this country and the need to ensure that products are clearly labelled. When the label says that a package contains Welsh meat, that is exactly what it should contain. We must ensure that fair and proper rules and regulations are in place and give full support to farming. Last year, 3,800 people left farming in Wales, while 20,000 people left it nationally. That came on top of the 20,000 people who left it the year before.
There was to be a rally for the countryside on 18 March this year. Its postponement was a big decision for the organisers. That decision could not have been easy, as the number of people who were coming to march in London on that day was well above the number who participated in the march that took place a few years ago. Although the rally will not now occur, the reasons for it remain. The Prime Minister must listen to the people who live and work in the countryside. It was amazing that any time was given to the Hunting Bill in the House last week, while the foot and mouth crisis was under way. It would have been far better to suspend such a debate at a time when the agriculture industry is in such deep crisis and to consider foot and mouth disease instead. Instead, an Opposition day had to be used for a full debate on the subject.
Will the Secretary of State ensure that the Minister of Agriculture comes regularly to the Dispatch Box to keep us informed about foot and mouth and the measures that he is taking to provide as much assistance as possible? Assistance should be given not only to farmers; as has been mentioned, it should be given to the line of other people who are involved in farming. Those affected will not necessarily be farmers, but may none the less have paid a heavy price.
The Farmers Union of Wales has contacted me to express its concerns. It says:
There is an urgent need to address the welfare implications of having in-lamb ewes and in-calf heifers away from the farm, given the current movement restrictions.
It welcomes the limited movements of livestock to abattoirs under licence, but it is
concerned that abattoirs/dealers are passing the increased costs associated with the scheme back on to producers.
Will the Secretary of State consider that matter? I am further informed by the union that it would
welcome clarification on why prior to the FMD outbreak, supermarkets claimed that it was cheaper to source meat imported from abroad due to the strength of the pound and since the outbreak, have been warning consumers that prices will have to go up".
Will he please consider the matter carefully and have discussions with the Minister of Agriculture, so that we can get as much information as possible?
I turn now to law and order. We had a Welsh Grand Committee debate on this subject only the other day, but it is right to stress again the law and order problems in Wales. In 1994, the number of incidents involving violence against the person was 13,478, but in 1999, there were 37,922 such incidents. That is an amazing increase. In 1997, the figure for robbery was 811; today it is 909. Total violent crime has increased from 20,000 in 1997 to 40,580 today. Those statistics are worrying; they affect everyone who lives in Wales. The Government should do something about that.
Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that violence against the person has increased by 6 per cent. in Wales, compared with a combined England and Wales average of 11 per cent.? Is he aware of steps taken by, for example, the Cardiff violence reduction initiative, which demonstrates that we can succeed in reducing violence? The Home Secretary is rightly encouraging such developments throughout England and Wales.
I welcome any initiative to tackle crime in Wales. A leaked report from the Home Office states that the Department is carefully considering reducing custodial sentences of a year or less to three months. That, together, with early release of prisoners, sends the wrong signal to criminals. We must carefully examine the early release of prisoners, because several have gone on to commit further crimes.
I do not want my hon. Friend to understate his case. Does he agree that it is especially outrageous that more than 200 people who were convicted of assaulting a police officer and were sentenced to five months' imprisonment have, under the terms of the ludicrous early-release scheme, been let out of jail after serving only six weeks? Is not that testimony to and eloquent proof of the fact that the Labour party does not believe in supporting our police?
I am not usually accused of understatement; perhaps I am guilty of it only in comparison with my hon. Friend. However, he is absolutely right. I was a victim of crime before Christmas, and I have spoken to many other victims. I am sure that, like me, they feel completely let down. I feel sorry for the police, who work so hard to find the criminals. When they take them off the street, the criminals are released and soon able to reoffend. That is another slap in the face for the victims of crime. The Government should be strong on law and order, not simply on rhetoric. They claim to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, but early releases and shorter sentences contradict that claim.
The national health service has been mentioned. Again, people feel badly let down. The Government are good on slogans; we shall be tough on the causes of slogans. We all remember, "24 hours to save the national health service", but the latest statistics are damning. On 31 March 1997, the total number of Welsh residents waiting for in-patient or day-case treatments was 67,609. By 31 January this year, that figure had increased to 75,415. In 1997, 6,274 patients waited more than 12 months for treatment; today, the figure is 11,002. In 1997, the figure for patients waiting more than 18 months was 1,402; today, it is 4,818. Those increases are startling.
In March 1997, the total number of Welsh residents waiting for a first out-patient appointment was 101,000; today, that figure is 179,440. When the Government came to power, 28,401 patients waited more than three months for treatment; today, the figure has increased to 93,773. In 1997, 5,956 patients waited more than six months for treatment; today that figure is 48,506.
The Government promised people so much on the health service, but little has been delivered. In Wales, more people are waiting longer for treatment. That is hardly surprising. An article in the Western Mail entitled "Heart patients 'dying needlessly- stated:
Consultant cardiologist Dr. Tony Davies said patients needing urgent heart treatment were being turned away because their beds were taken by emergency medical admissions …
Dr. Davies and his … colleague consultant cardiologist Dr. Mike Stephens said heart patients' appointments were cancelled every day as the winter beds crisis worsened …
People are dying because of a lack of beds,' said Dr. Davies".
People who work in the national health service, not us, are making those comments. Dr. Davies is employed by the Gwent health care NHS trust.
People are dying on the waiting list.
Those are the words of someone who works in the national health service in Wales.
I visited the Heath hospital in Cardiff less than two weeks ago. Someone told me that £5 million was needed for a children's hospital, yet the Labour party's Administration in the Welsh Assembly is wasting between £30 million and £40 million on a new building. The Government would prefer to spend the money on pampering politicians instead of treating patients, especially vulnerable child patients. Their priorities are skewed.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments on hospital beds. Not long ago, "Newsnight" carried out a survey, which showed that, during the Tory years of 1982 to 1995, the number of acute beds in British hospitals decreased from 144,000 to 109,000 as a result of the former Government's policies. Is not this an opportune time for the hon. Gentleman to apologise for that?
I fear that the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe, who represents Neath, is correct about the hon. Lady's future. Stephen Crabb will make an excellent Member of Parliament for Preseli Pembrokeshire. He will speak up for the patients of Wales and ensure that they receive proper treatment. I thought that the hon. Lady might refer to the comments of someone who works in the national health service. We hear much spin about the amount of money that is going into the NHS, but someone at the top of his profession says that people are dying through lack of attention by the Government.
If the Conservative party formed a Government, and Mr. Crabb became Member of Parliament for Preseli Pembrokeshire, what would happen to the pledges of the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), the shadow Chancellor? He said that he intended to make cuts of £16 billion in public spending. Does not the hon. Gentleman understand that that would mean a severe cut in the block grant to Wales? Whatever he says about buildings, cuts of £16 billion are bound to affect the national health service. Does not he accept that they would have an adverse effect, and does not he understand that the Government have put more money into the health service than any Government since its inception?
The amount of money that was invested in the national health service increased throughout the Conservative years. That would continue under a Conservative Government. The Secretary of State mentions the figure of £16 billion, which is completely false. No journalist accepts that it bears any resemblance to reality. We will match the money that is being spent on the national health service, education and law and order. We will cut out the wasteful expenditure of £8 billion that the Government are prepared to perpetuate, and we will increase vital public service expenditure and ensure that the money is effectively spent.
Although the Secretary of State has a diminished role post-devolution, he has twice as many special advisers in his Department as David Hunt had when he was Secretary of State and had much more to do. Money could be saved by cutting out useless administration, and better spent on front-line services. We will do that. The Secretary of State had an opportunity to say that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West and the Assembly were wrong to spend so much money on a new building for politicians and that he would have preferred it to be spent on patients. However, he did not say that. He is justifying the mis-spending of millions of pounds on a new Assembly building in Wales that could have been so much better spent on patients.
I apologise for coming in late. I was chairing a meeting in my constituency for three hours this morning that was organised two months ago.
The hon. Gentleman denies the existence of the £16 billion cut that the Conservative party has proposed. The genesis of the matter is to be found in a press release from Conservative central office issued on 18 July 2000, which gave an itemised breakdown of each region of the United Kingdom and of how much would be given in tax cuts. That is where the figure comes from.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was late, because he missed my informing the House that the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe predicts that the hon. Gentleman will lose his seat at the next general election. The figures that the hon. Gentleman is coming up with mean absolutely nothing. The scare tactics that Labour is using—
Well, if that gets the hon. Gentleman to sleep at night, that is fine. However, he will have more time to sleep after the general election, if the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe is correct. The hon. Gentleman is using scare tactics. We will increase the amount of money being spent on essential services. No one now believes the £16 billion figure that the Labour party has dreamed up, because it is completely false.
May I take the hon. Gentleman back to what he said about the cost of the new Assembly building? Is he not being slightly hypocritical in saying that that money is not being well spent, when he is ensconced in a palatial office in a building that cost £250 million?
I shall come on to Plaid Cymru shortly. The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge, if he is being fair, that I condemned the amount of money being spent on Portcullis House. I would have preferred to see the savings that could have been made there going into front-line services. [Interruption.] I am sorry that Labour Members find consistency so unusual, but I can understand why they do.
I shall move on from the national health service to business. Two reports have been published recently. One is from the Federation of Small Businesses, entitled "Barriers to Growth and Survival"—[Interruption.] I shall mention that briefly before I move on to a more up-to-date report from the Confederation of British Industry called "Facing the Future". The Under-Secretary has just reminded me that I mentioned the former report when we last debated these issues. It is necessary for me to remind the House again of what the report said because the Government are not listening.
The report from the Federation of Small Businesses was based on Wales, and on page 25 it deals with dissatisfaction with legislation issues. Of those who responded, 81 per cent. said that they were dissatisfied with the volume of legislation; 83 per cent. were dissatisfied with the complexity of legislation; 79 per cent. were dissatisfied with the rate of change of legislation; 79 per cent. were dissatisfied with the interpretation of legislation; 59 per cent. were dissatisfied with the ability to employ staff; and 65 per cent. were dissatisfied with the cost of compliance.
The Federation of Small Businesses and small business men themselves are saying that the Government are not providing the solution to the problem—they are the problem. I wish that the Government would listen more
carefully to what business men are saying. They are the people who are creating the jobs. Only this week, the CBI stated that businesses are being "smothered by legislation". One of the authors of the CBI's report is Michael Plaut, managing director of the south Wales company, Northmace. He states that
flexibility is being put at risk by increasing red tape and legislation. We are close to a situation where the straw is going to break the camel's back … We have some superb SMEs in Wales which would love to employ more people, but are deterred from doing so by stringent regulations.
The Government are now introducing the climate change levy, which will cost manufacturing jobs—some jobs are already being shed in anticipation. The Secretary of State read out the names of a number of companies in which jobs were being created, and I welcome every one of those jobs, including the 500 that were announced by Ikea in south Wales this week. However, I ask him also to consider the jobs that are being lost in Wales, such as those at Dairycrest—some new jobs were announced there, but there was a net loss of about 300—and at Corns, where about 6,000 jobs will be lost. A further 165 jobs are to be lost at Dewhirst in Lampeter.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the worst features of so many Government policies in Wales is that they consistently shuffle responsibility from the Government to beleaguered businesses, forcing the latter to become unpaid tax collectors and benefit distributors? Does he agree that that is a matter of particular concern, given that 99.6 per cent. of companies in this country employ fewer than 100 people, that they account for 57 per cent. of the private sector work force and that they generate two fifths of our national output?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The CBI's report calls businesses with fewer than 250 employees "small", although I do not. There are 3.75 million SMEs in the UK, and they account for 99.8 per cent. of the total UK business stock. They are vital. During the Conservative years, we looked to small businesses to create jobs, and they did so. We shall pay a heavy penalty if we do not recognise that fact and support them instead of trying to strangle them with the rules, regulations and taxation that have been the hallmark of this Government since 1997.
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that he should have better control of his brief, as he is the chief spokesperson on Wales for the Conservative party? A few moments ago, he mentioned that the job losses in Wales as a result of the Cows closures would be 6,000, but that is not the case; the figure will be 2,800.
All that I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that he ought to talk to people, although I am sure that he has. I visited a pub in Shotton a couple of weeks ago, and people there fear that all the small businesses in the area will be affected. Does not the hon. Gentleman think that the consequence of almost 3,000 direct job losses at Corns will be a further 3,000 job losses in other sectors in Wales that serve the steel industry?
The hon. Gentleman ought to know that those people will be listening carefully to what he is saying as well.
The CBI believes that business confidence among Welsh manufacturers has fallen to the greatest extent since last January, according to its quarterly trends survey. The survey suggests that the fall comes as business confidence in manufacturing across the UK as a whole fell by much less. It also shows that the costs for Welsh manufacturers are likely to increase.
There have been 5,168 job losses in Welsh manufacturing since the beginning of this year. That is an enormous number of jobs. While the Secretary of State for Wales still has a position at the Cabinet table—at least, for now—will he speak to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the matter? When the 10p-on-income-tax-Chancellor—that is the equivalent of what he has put on taxes in the past four years—decides to give some of it back on Wednesday to try to bribe people to support his Government at the next general election, he should look carefully at the taxes that he has already raised and those that he is about to raise. In particular, he should consider the taxes on small to medium-sized enterprises and on manufacturing industry in Wales. He should also reconsider the climate change levy, which a future Conservative Government will abolish. We also support small to medium-sized enterprises and manufacturing industry.
I agree with one remark that the Secretary of State made concerning Plaid Cymru. Seimon Glyn has been mentioned time and again. When Plaid Cymru Members intervened earlier, I thought that they might have taken the opportunity to apologise for Seimon Glyn, the chairman of housing of Gwynedd county council and a leading member of Plaid Cymru in that area. But, no, Plaid Cymru Membes did not apologise, and I suspect that they will not apologise for him again. They did so last time, but Seimon Glyn himself withdrew that apology. Indeed, only a couple of weeks ago, he attended a rally in Caernarfon and told 350 protesters that he had received hundreds of messages of support from people all over Wales and beyond and that the future looked bleak for Welsh-speaking villages on the Llyn peninsular in north Wales and in other areas.
Let us be in no doubt about this whatever: Seimon Glyn is a leading member of Plaid Cymru in Wales and he has not been ostracised by members of his own party. They have not booted him out and he still holds the position of Gwynedd county council's chairman of housing, so I can assume only that the very highest commands of Plaid Cymru support his membership. No doubt he will campaign hard during the election for votes for Plaid Cymru, but it will pay a heavy price throughout Wales—[Interruption.] Oh! The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) thinks that I am wrong. He obviously thinks that Seimon Glyn has struck a chord with the people of Wales and, indeed, with many people who have come to Wales, contributed and provided so much support over many years.
May I correct the hon. Gentleman? Our telephone canvassing shows increased support over the past month. Given that Welsh language and culture are under threat and under considerable pressure in some areas in Wales, what policies does he advocate to deal with that?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was a previous Conservative Government and Wyn Roberts who did so much to support the Welsh language. Indeed, it has been widely acknowledged on both sides of the House that the previous Conservative Government gave unprecedented support through the creation of Sianel 4 Cymru and backing for the Welsh language. I can tell the hon. Gentleman now that we shall continue to support the Welsh language, but we shall not do so at the expense of people who come to Wales to add their contribution by setting up businesses, employing people and visiting Wales. It is a great shame that lie has not at least condemned the remarks of Seimon Glyn. Indeed, he has made no reference to those comments, which suggests that he endorses them.
It may have been noted that I have not mentioned the Liberal Democrats. I thought about it, then decided not to. I shall move on.
My hon. Friend does not want to mention the Liberal Democrats, but will he allow me at least to ask what he thinks of an electoral system for an Assembly that is as lacking in a democratic mandate as that in Cardiff, which allows the party that was fourth in the elections to share ministerial-type appointments with the party that was first? Is that fair or democratic? Can we expect more of that from a Government who have such ways of undermining proper representation?
My hon. Friend tempts me to mention the Liberal Democrats, but I am loth to do so, except to say that they will pay a heavy price at the general election because people feel badly let down. They are not part of the Opposition, but they are part of the coalition and they will pay in Brecon and Radnorshire and in Montgomeryshire.
The hon. Gentleman did not reply to the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr. Lewis) on proper democratic representation of constituents. I do not think that he will come to that point, so will he tell the House his party's policies and his own views regarding the next Parliament? I am sure that there will not be a Conservative Government, but were there to be one, would he agree with reducing the rights, duties, responsibilities and powers of Welsh Members? Would he make us second-class MPs?
The Secretary of State has just returned from his own conference in Swansea and it was reported:
Speakers voice strong opposition to PR system".
With so many of his own supporters attacking the Labour party at every turn, I can understand why he does not want to address the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East. On what a Conservative Government would do, he signally fails to recognise that all of us, apart from Scottish Members, have been made second-class Members. Scottish Members are able to vote on issues relating to England and Wales, but we are not allowed to vote on those same issues as they relate to Scotland.
The Secretary of State must accept that Scottish Members can vote on legislation to ban hunting with hounds as it affects England and my constituency and as it affects his constituency, but we cannot vote on it as it affects their constituencies. Even more absurd is the fact that even they cannot vote on such legislation as it affects their constituencies. We shall make absolutely certain that Scottish Members will not be able to vote on issues that have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The Secretary of State knows that the power to make primary legislation for Wales rests here, so we shall make certain that only English and Welsh Members can vote on matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I am content with our policy and believe that it will gain a lot of support from the people of Wales as we explain it during the general election campaign.
The hon. Gentleman says that his party's policy will get a lot of support from the people of Wales. Under it, however, there would be different types of MP, including Welsh Members, and Scottish Members would be unable to vote on certain matters. I assume that his party believes that the same should happen to Welsh Members. Should not there be a single type of Member of Parliament to represent each constituency? If not, inadequate representation would be provided by those who sit for the 40 Welsh parliamentary constituencies; or is he saying that he wants to reduce that figure as well? The Conservative party, through him, is saying to the people of Wales, "You will have second-class MPs in the House of Commons."
I am saying that, under the Labour Government, there are a number of second-class MPs, including the Welsh and the English. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is a great shame that the Government did not properly think through the devolution proposals. They say that they are replacing one anomaly with another and that we should be grateful for it. However, it is wrong that Scottish Members should come down to vote on issues that have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. They ought to have no say whatever as such matters should be left to English and Welsh Members. That is what I believe and that is what I shall support at the general election.
Following the point made by the Secretary of State, does my hon. Friend agree that many Welsh Assembly men think that they are second-class Members under the current arrangements? Do not they have far less power than Members of the Scottish Parliament? That shows the lack of symmetry in the devolution mechanism under the Labour Government.
The Government were already prepared to accept a different system because they knew that the people of Wales simply would not vote for a Parliament. Indeed, they almost did not vote for the National Assembly for Wales—the winning margin in the referendum was 0.6 per cent. We totally oppose and shall not support or vote for any measures to give the Welsh Assembly powers to raise tax and make primary legislation, which the Liberal Democrats at least believe should be foisted on Wales without a referendum.
The House and the people of Wales would be interested to hear precisely what Conservative party policy is on devolution. As the hon. Gentleman has made his attitude to Welsh Members of the House of Commons clear and as he has just said that he does not like the idea of different types of devolution, what sort of devolution does his party favour for Wales?
The Secretary of State asks what that means, but many people in a number of areas of Wales feel badly let down by the National Assembly, so we shall work hard to make it operate in the interests of all the people of Wales, without the power to raise tax or make primary legislation.
The Secretary of State has asked me about representation and devolution. I am prepared to debate those issues with him on television during the next general election campaign. Is he prepared to accept the invitation of the television companies to participate in such debates during the election? I have said yes, and I suspect that members of the other political parties are also prepared to do so. Does the Secretary of State for Wales have more guts than his leader, who has run away from debating these issues with the leader of the Conservative party? Will he accept the invitation to hold televised debates at the general election?
I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what I told the Welsh Grand Committee. It is not for the Conservative party to tell the Labour party how to run our election campaign, but I am sure that the opportunity will arise for us to have the great delight of debating all these issues with each other, so it would be useful to know his views on devolution.
I think that that was a distinct no. We may be only days away from the announcement of a general election. Labour want to run the campaign with spin and technology from Millbank. The Prime Minister is running away from the Leader of the Opposition. It is sad that the Secretary of State has not accepted my invitation.
The Government have badly let down many people, whether they be students, pensioners, farmers, workers in manufacturing industry, small and medium-sized enterprises, those waiting for an operation, those in growing class sizes in secondary schools or those suffering teacher shortages. The Government say, "Please trust us with your currency. We will have a referendum to decide the future of the pound." No one will trust our currency to a referendum run by the Government, because no one trusts them any more. People are disillusioned and have seen so much given away in the past. At the next election, with the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, we will have an opportunity to give our country back to the people of Britain and Wales.
Like many right hon. and hon. Friends, I was shocked to hear last night of the death of Ian Spratling. During my time as Secretary of State for Wales and First Secretary, I found him to be a unique individual—tough, vigorous and a positive voice for business in west Wales. He would work with elected representatives in central and local government to do the best for business. He was London born, which I did not realise because his passion for west Wales and for making the best of objective 1 opportunities were manifest.
I join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in paying tribute to Lord Cledwyn. My uncle, Bob Roberts, who was brought up at Ty'n y Felin just outside Llanfachraeth, was a class mate of Cledwyn Hughes. They both ended up in the House of Commons—Cledwyn inside as Secretary of State, and uncle Bob outside as a policeman on St. Stephen's Entrance. It was a matter of great pride for the family that they both made it here. When I was elected in 1987, almost the first call I received was an invitation as a "bachgen o Ynys Môn" to see him in his office in the Lords. It was a great delight when, a short time later, he joined me and my wife and my mother and uncle Bob. We had the pleasure of his company and his memory of those times. He had a passion for the university of Wales; not because it is an institution, but because it offers hope and opportunity to young people, which is why it was established in the first place. He had a passion for Wales, and was a passionate supporter of devolution, but he hated the narrowness of nationalism, as did Jim Griffiths, another great Welsh and British politician and democrat.
I want to remind the House of the arguments for devolution that Lord Cledwyn and Jim Griffiths used in their time. We are now involved in a struggle between the negativism of nationalism and the positive values of partnership, which is what devolution is all about. The Leader of the Opposition spoke today of how Wales would be represented in the future: a part-time job for a non-Welsh MP. That is nonsense. The reality is that, if the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) ever became Prime Minister, he would lead a narrow, English nationalist Government.
We have seen already the value of devolution in England. Questions from Conservative Members seem to suggest that they are unaware of devolution in Spain, which is not symmetrical. There is no symmetry in devolution in England, because London has its own mayor and authority with powers, although the English regions have their own regional development agencies and chambers of commerce to give them a voice. The voluntary sector is also coming together in those regions. I ask English colleagues to look at the nationalists in Wales and to be warned. Devolution has already happened in England, and it is strengthening de democracy in England.
There is no need to say more about the words of Councillor Seimon Glyn, except that he outraged most Welsh speakers, and those who have come to Wales from England, Scotland and elsewhere and want their children to learn Welsh. It is Labour party members who care for the Welsh language, as we heard in an excellent debate on Welsh language and culture at our conference on Saturday morning in Swansea. It is the Labour party that is bringing jobs to Wales and reconstructing the Welsh economy, which is the real opportunity for the Welsh language, as it is for every other aspect of Welsh culture.
We see the same narrow, conservative nationalism behind the so-called row that the Western Mail has been trying to whip up over the census and the tick box. It is irresponsible of the Western Mail or anyone else to encourage people not to respond to the census. When people had the opportunity in Ceredigion and Gwynedd to say whether they wanted changes in the census form, they did not ask for a tick box.
What does it mean to have a tick box? Scotland has a tick box. In the words of the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who is no longer present, Plaid Cymru believes:
Where Scotland goes, Wales must surely follow.
I do not agree with that. I want our political debates in Wales to resolve Welsh issues, rather than imitate what happens in Scotland. I do not want Plaid Cymru's follower Wales: I want a Wales that leads.
In Scotland, if people follow the instructions correctly, only white Scots will tick the Scot box. That is ludicrous, and it is not right in this century. I do not want that in Wales. I will tick the box to show that I am British, and I will write in to say that I am Welsh. I am sure that the census system can cope with that. I am proud to be Welsh and I am proud to be British. The nationalists cannot say that. I will encourage many people in my constituency to say that they are Welsh, British and Afro-Caribbean or Asian. This intemperate, last-minute debate has confused the issues of nationality and ethnicity.
My hon. Friend is correct. As I said, this intemperate, last-minute debate has confused the issues of nationality and ethnicity. It is possible to deal with those points, but not by adding an extra tick box. If people want the census to ask about their national background and ethnicity in a couple of questions, rather than just one, that can be done in the next census. If so, I would want people in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to give their birth origins and their national and ethnic identity. I suspect that all of us could unite around that. [Interruption.] I am glad to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) nodding. However, that cannot be dealt with in time for the current census, and it is ludicrous to suggest that it should be.
We could use the information from the census for many serious jobs, so we need the best possible responses to it. Socio-economic measurements and crime and disorder audits, which will be undertaken in the coming years, are taken against the baseline of the national census, so everyone should be encouraged to fill in the form. We could then have a debate about the questions for the next census.
Our levels of crime and disorder are still too high, on which work is to be done that only a Government will do. I thought that the comments of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) about crime were wrong, and it was disgraceful that he tried to whip up fear of crime and fly in the face of the facts. One fact is that, since 1997, overall crime has fallen in all four police areas in Wales. There has been a fall of 24 per cent. in my area in south Wales, the second largest in England and Wales: only Northumbria has experienced a larger fall. That cannot be said to be a cause for satisfaction—there is still a long way to go—but at least it is going in the right direction. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley, who represents a distant constituency, would have gained a little more respect had he demonstrated that he knew a little more about what is happening to crime in Wales.
Violence against the person is currently one of the big worries, but it is a small consolation that it has risen by 6 per cent. rather than by the England-and-Wales average of 11 per cent. As I said during my time as First Secretary, this is not just a matter for the police and local authorities; those employed in the health service should also try to recognise the nature of violent crime—as workers in Cardiff s accident and emergency units have—and then work with the police to reduce it. That would demonstrate that we can act as we have been proved to be able to act in regard to other problems, such as burglaries and car crime.
I am pleased to note that it now takes half the time it took previously to bring young offenders before the courts. In the third quarter of last year, south Wales achieved its target of 71 days, as opposed to the 142 days that obtained when we took office, and we want that achievement to be sustained for a long time. Police numbers in Wales have risen by some 145 since the general election.
We need a wake-up message, however, because far more needs to be done. In April 2002, the second crime and disorder strategy needs to be in place for every local authority area in England and Wales. Local police superintendents and local authority chief executives, who have personal responsibility for the strategy, should be getting the work done now. Other organisations—including, again, the health service—need to recognise that crime and disorder audits will identify problems involving young people such as drug problems and the need for rehabilitation work. They should be getting the facts together for the audit now, and anticipating the work that they and local authorities will have to do in developing the youth service.
I pay tribute to the working party that produced the report "Extending Entitlement". I think we all want local authorities and the voluntary sector to help to produce the new Welsh youth service that the Assembly has a chance to produce—a project that I am sure the Assembly's Secretary, Jane Davidson, will pursue with great vigour, to our benefit.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley's comments about the health service struck me as disingenuous. He should have known that we inherited a health service that was— as we predicted at the time of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990—divided and competitive. It was duplicating services at local level, and was not delivering. A great deal of work had to be done, because the Secretary of State of the day had ripped out the Welsh Office's capacity to plan and supervise the use of the money going into the youth service.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley seems to rely on out-of-date newspaper clippings—presumably sent by his former newspaper shop in Swansea in order to increase its profits—for information about Wales. It is a pity that he is so clearly out of touch.
But at least a Welsh voice from England.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that when Labour came to power it had to sort things out. I remember the Prime Minister saying that he would reduce waiting lists by 100,000. Since Labour came to power, the list of people waiting for their first out-patient appointment has increased by 79,000—just in Wales.
When I took over as Secretary of State for Wales, we were just discovering how disastrous was the legacy of the hon. Gentleman's party. I established a taskforce to examine the position, and also involved the Audit Commission. We discovered massive debt in every part of the health service in Wales, especially in Dyfed Powys, where the entire service was crippled by the disaster left by our predecessors. The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of the mismanagement of successive Secretaries of State, which may owe itself to the fact that—like the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley—they did not represent Welsh constituencies and were out of touch with what was happening in Wales.
As for the economy, we have seen stability and a rise in employment, but problems and challenges remain. Those problems and challenges need to be met by business and Government working together. Corus, for instance, has not been willing to work with either the Westminster Government or the Assembly. As well as tackling such issues through partnership, we should encourage a "can do" approach among business. I was delighted to note such an approach among business people who joined us at Labour's business breakfast at Swansea on Friday. Business must join the public sector and others to use the opportunity presented by objective 1 status, and—as I suggested earlier—end the whingeing that has held us back during the early period of that opportunity.
Let me now mention something related to my constituency. Next year, a boat called Spirit of Cardiff will set a new world record for going around the world, thus illustrating the spirit of a constituency that still has higher male unemployment than any other Welsh constituency. Although we have seen improvements in the economic position of south Cardiff, we need to do more in that regard. In setting that world record, Spirit of Cardiff will put Cardiff and indeed Wales on the map. Before it does so, it will publicise its "can do" spirit and its future achievement in May with a practice run to New York. I am delighted by the response from business people in New York who have Welsh origins, and who want to be a part of the initiative.
I pay tribute to the voluntary sector in Wales, and to the manifesto that has been launched in the past few days. I am delighted that one plea could be left out—the plea for Government to pay for the criminal records checks that will be introduced in the next few months—because the Government have announced that they will pay for them. They will not constitute a burden or a ax on volunteering, as was planned by the last Conservative Home Secretary. This Government recognise the importance of encouraging voluntary work.
The manifesto also encourages partnership. It suggests that we should operate on the basis of outcomes: we should consider not just what goes in but what comes out, and the question of who does best. That is a constructive approach, and I hope that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues will respond to it positively.
I am glad that it has been decided not to abolish community health councils in Wales. I fought opposition to them during the passage of the 1990 Act, and I was pleased to be able to restructure them in Wales and create a pattern to give them a long-term future there. On Report, amendments were accepted in respect of the English arrangements, bringing the position much closer to what we had all hoped for. Ministers responded positively then. I hope that on this occasion the Minister will be able to assure us that the enhanced powers given to the new body—I think the name is less important than its capacity to do its job for patients and the community—will be available to the Assembly to pass on to Welsh community health councils.
The whole point of devolution is that it gives us the opportunity as Welsh Members of Parliament to celebrate not only differences, but the partnership with the Assembly, with local government, with business and with the voluntary sector in Wales. Devolution is about differences and about partnership. It is a step on the road not to separation or to victory for nationalism, but to victory for common sense.
I pay tribute in particular to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales for the quiet, constructive and powerful way in which he has represented Wales in the Assembly. He has worked with the Assembly constructively during his period of office. It is in that sense that we should celebrate St. David's day and our opportunity to debate Welsh issues in the House today.
I also pay tribute to the late Lord Cledwyn. He was a doughty fighter for devolution and, indeed, for Europe. During the 1975 referendum campaign, in Aberystwyth, I spoke on a platform with him when it was not popular in the Labour party to be so pro-European, but he was fearless in his beliefs and truly independent in many aspects. I admired that trait in him a great deal, as did many of my countrymen. It is a sad loss to politics as a whole that he has passed away.
This is possibly my last speech in the House, because I am retiring at the general election. I do not hear many expressions of regret about that. None the less, it is a great honour to be a Welshman who has served my constituents and my country in the House.
I had an upbringing in rural Wales. I was a widowed teacher's son and went to school at the age of three. She was a peripatetic teacher and taught in schools in three different places, so my early education was in Talybont, Talgarth and Hay-on-Wye in my constituency.
I learned to think for myself as a result of those early experiences and of living through the second world war. I was very interested and involved in farming and country pursuits. It is ironic to see farming at the height of a foot and mouth outbreak now. Naturally, I ended up in a career in agriculture, working for a multinational company. Later I was a farm manager, and a lecturer in agricultural economics.
I am glad that I had that career. Most Welshmen have to travel to find work. I travelled to the north of England, to Scotland—and, indeed, as far as Aberystwyth. I could not have done what I have done without the enthusiastic and dedicated support of my wife and family. All I know is that my career before I came to the House—in the world of big business, farming and education—prepared me well for the time that I have spent here. Even two years in the Army helped a lot. In particular, I thank all those who have helped me on the way—relations, friends, teachers, lecturers and party members—for their great kindness.
The Welsh day debate is the occasion to celebrate being Welsh, to have poetry in one's heart and, for a lot of us, the spirit of music within us—whether it comes out or not. We have politics running through our life experience, often from our confrontation with social realities: lack of work, a hard environment, poor health and poverty. Welsh society tends to be more equal than society in England, but we rightly rail against the inequalities.
I am pleased that proportional representation has arrived. The Ribble Valley ranter spoke for an hour and criticised PR; that is quite a wonder, considering that eight of the Conservative Members in the National Assembly are there only because of PR. At least the Liberal Democrats had three Members elected by first past the post; the Conservatives had only one.
My liberalism stems from within my family. It stems from non-conformism, independence and awareness of the importance of co-operation, wealth creation and social justice. It is not socialism, but it is egalitarian. It empowers communities as well as individuals. Modern liberal democracy does not fear state intervention, and stands clearly to the left of new Labour.
My conversion to liberalism was secured in my teens by Clement Davies and a young Glyn Tegai Hughes, who preached home rule for Wales, economic and democratic government for Europe and successful world government through the creation of the United Nations. Most of those aims have been achieved in my lifetime. That is a long way from yesterday's description by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) of a foreign country. Fifty years ago, we were talking of much more progressive things.
Home rule for Wales was compatible with a European Union. State intervention and taxation were more than acceptable if they produced a world that brought about the greater good of society and the individuals in it. Hence Liberals such as Beveridge worked hard for the establishment of the national health service, to which we all enthusiastically subscribed.
Beveridge found the money to finance that; Nye Bevan brought in the Act. Liberals and Liberal Democrats in Wales have always worked at the leading edge of progressive politics. In recent times, we have not always had the credit for our radical, constructive approach, but I expect that, ultimately, our support for the National Assembly and our decisive move to enter partnership politics to provide stable government in the Assembly will stand Liberal Democrats in good stead. We remain independent, but choose co-operation.
Wales needs stability. Liberal Democrats give it that dimension. We believe that education and training empower individuals, that a good health service epitomises a caring Wales, and that no worthwhile society in Wales can be created without quality jobs, mainly created through home-grown entrepreneurs—backed in future, I hope, by our own banks.
The Westminster Parliament must soon give Wales primary legislative powers like those in Scotland, so that it can become a master in its own house. We must reform the Barnett formula and base it on the needs of Wales. Tax-varying powers must accompany those reforms. Such measures will release the energy of a new and confident Welsh people in a Welsh Parliament.
My constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire is the largest, most beautiful and most rural in Wales. It has been a huge privilege to represent it. The loyalty of my constituents and their willingness to elect me as their representative here is something for which I will be eternally grateful.
My supporters have worked tirelessly for the Liberal Democrat cause. The victory that we achieved together in the great 1985 by-election was one of the highlights of my life. We demolished the second highest Conservative majority in Wales. As a result, the Conservative party chairman was sacked. I was elected at the age of 50 as the 50th Liberal Member of Parliament since the second world war.
My political career has been a roller-coaster, and I do not mind admitting it. In seven elections, I have had two lost deposits, a third place, a second place, three wins and eight recounts. That is not bad for a son of Talgarth. All that was thoroughly enjoyable. If people do not enjoy politics, they should not be in it.
I have had a very good relationship with my constituents. During our time together we have saved factories, opened new ones, seen others close and seen some work go to eastern Europe. On the plus side, thanks in some measure to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), we have fought a tremendous battle and won the argument to save our six community hospitals. We saved our NHS trust, too. That has ensured that a real grass-roots NHS for patients can be delivered efficiently and effectively in one of the remotest parts of Britain.
The Liberal Democrats will play an increasingly important role in directing the fortunes of Britain in the 21st century. I certainly expect us to be involved, in one way or another, in the government of our country.
Liberal Democrats have an enduring philosophy that can meet the challenge of the vast changes that will occur in British society in this century. I believe that in Wales the Assembly will have not only far greater powers but a new self-confidence emerging from the people of Wales, who will have a very significant impact on their own well-being and make a constructive contribution to a federal Britain with a positive role within the European Union.
The crisis in farming is one matter that has undoubtedly grieved me in recent years. I was brought up on a 90-acre farm, albeit only as the tenant in part of the farmhouse. Welsh family farms are the backbone of our rural society. Both Conservative and Labour Governments have presided over the demise of the family farm to the point that, certainly in my constituency, youngsters no longer want to farm. That situation has been created by the supermarkets' overbearing power in the marketplace. They have borne down on farm commodity prices until they have been able to pay prices that are lower than production costs. That should be illegal in the United Kingdom, as it is in the United States. The sooner the House legislates, the better it will be.
Another aspect is undoubtedly the Government's timidity in refusing to join the euro. Welsh farming families have lost many millions of pounds because of the failure to join the eurozone on 1 January 1999. We must join as soon as possible. Joining the euro is one of the few actions available to us to ensure fair prices for our farm products and, therefore, a return to profitability.
I am sorry that I have to intervene in the hon. Gentleman's resignation speech. However, although it is true that both Labour and Tory Governments have presided over the decline of family farms, that is no more than a statement of the facts. There has not been a Liberal Government in almost a century. The hon. Gentleman has described the problem—which exists in all the other western European countries—but what do Liberal Democrat Members have in mind to solve it? What positive comments does he have to make?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for asking that question. Welsh family farms cannot make a profit because of rock-bottom farm commodity prices. In prices, they have lost out by a margin of 40 per cent. because we are not in the eurozone. The situation is the same in the steel industry and in other industries. Were we in the eurozone, our Welsh family farms would be making a profit. That is why farms in Europe that are only half the size of farms in Wales can make a profit, but those farms in Wales cannot make a profit.
Modulation is an extremely important concept, as those resources should be concentrated on family units. We all know the statistics. The large farms receive 80 per cent. of the subsidies, whereas the small farms, which account for far more than half the farming population, receive only 20 per cent. That is the problem.
Wales is a country of family livestock farms, which are currently being hit very badly by foot and mouth disease. Foot and mouth disease is a tragedy that must be overcome. In 1967, I left Wales for eight or nine years and worked in Northumberland, where there was a horrendous outbreak of foot and mouth disease. It took six months to conquer that outbreak, and some farming families could not leave their fanny for three months. When the dust from this outbreak has settled, we must support family farms and help them to diversify their products for the benefit of Wales's rural communities. Suckler cow premiums, beef special premiums and sheep annual premiums must be paid early to sustain cash flows.
In Wales's urban areas, the closure of our coal mines and the destruction of jobs in the steel industry have destroyed many valley communities. I regard that as an extremely serious matter. In the 19th century, my own family worked in Cyfarthfa ironworks, but everyone was put out of work. My grandfather went down the colliery when he was 14. I understand the problems of the valleys. It is very important for the future of Wales that we understand each other's problems and tackle them in a unified manner.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has the right to talk about valley communities being destroyed. The valley communities that I represent are vibrant and have tremendous community spirit, and the people who live in them are certainly not destroyed. He comes from a rural area, and he should not talk down our valley communities. The Government have poured resources into those communities. Unemployment is coming down, and our communities are on the way up. I wish that people like him would not talk down Wales and valley communities.
The hon. Gentleman has totally misrepresented what I said. My mother came from Troed-y-rhiw, and he should know better. What is needed in the valleys is better quality work, higher wages and a much better local economy. The spirit there is fantastic. The people of the valleys have been oppressed for a long time and they have had to fight. I know that from within my own family. We need to unite and work for a better economy for Wales, to resurrect it as something that is really worth while. A further crash programme of job creation is vital to bringing wealth to those deprived communities. They undoubtedly already have plenty of wealth in terms of community strength.
I have had two stints as leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. The most recent one, from 1997 to 2001, has certainly been the most enjoyable and eventful. Winning the Welsh Assembly referendum was certainly the highlight and the realisation of many of the aims of my career. The elation of that victory and of what it meant for my beloved Wales will remain with me for ever. I hope that it will also inspire a new generation of young Welsh politicians.
Our new Assembly is an imperfect thing, but it will grow with our nation. Ultimately, we still have the innate talent in Wales—including the talent for robust political argument—to make more of ourselves. We must raise our eyes from the negativity that sometimes abounds in our debates. In Wales, we need vision and unity of purpose to create a better and more successful nation and society. That is the challenge of the 21st century. I am pleased to have been able to play a very small part in laying a few secure foundations for the future that my country desperately needs.
The annual debate on Welsh affairs has always provided an opportunity for what are often euphemistically described as wide-ranging speeches. Today's debate has already lived up to the great traditions of the past. I hope that my wide-ranging speech will be fairly short.
We have had various debates on Welsh affairs recently. We have had debates on the economy in the Welsh Grand Committee, debates on social deprivation on the Floor of the House, and other debates on law and order and on building better, stronger and safer communities. I think that most of us, if we consider the Welsh economy objectively, can understand the Welsh economy's strong points, its weaknesses, the improvements that have been made and the improvements that are needed.
The Welsh economy's strong points have already been mentioned in today's debate. Unemployment, for example, has decreased considerably. Indeed, it has decreased by more than most us would have thought possible when the Government were elected at the last general election. Inflation is low, as is the cost of borrowing money. Since my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made his announcements in the autumn, there has been a substantial increase in the sums being devoted to public services. It will take some time before the money filters through to health and education services, but that is happening and it will happen increasingly during the next few years. The minimum wage has been a great success, as we saw today in the welcome proposal to increase it by 10 per cent. Thus there have been strong points, but there is no use in denying that the Welsh economy has weak points; we all know what they are.
Incomes or gross domestic product per head are still low, although some parts of Wales now have fairly high incomes and GDP per head. Perhaps one of our future problems will be the gap between areas such as Cardiff, Newport, the south-east and parts of the north-east and other parts of Wales, but generally incomes and GDP per head are still too low and we need to try to do something to raise them. Obviously, that is not easy; it will take time.
As the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) said, farming is under Tremendous pressure. It has suffered one blow after another. I entirely agree with him that the small family farm is often the backbone of rural communities, especially the Welsh-speaking communities, and we should preserve them if we can. However, his prescription was not as constructive or good as his analysis. France was mentioned in an intervention during his speech. Hardly a family farm is left in the Creuse in central France and most of them are occupied by weekend visitors from Paris. That is a real problem around the world, given the pressures on commodity prices.
My hon. Friend is right. Perhaps I should be careful, given the intervention that my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) made in the speech of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, but I should like to mention the tremendous pressure that has been placed on our traditional industries, on our manufacturing industry and on the communities that were bound up with them. No other small country in the industrialised western world has had to bear the disruption and degeneration in its economic structure that Wales has borne from the late 1960s onwards.
The point that I was trying to make—I thought that I had done so—was that, although our industries were destroyed, our communities have not been. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) should read his speech tomorrow; he talked about valley communities being destroyed. The industry was destroyed, but the valley communities have not been.
I agree with my hon. Friend and hope that I can develop that theme. I suppose that, given the high dependence, first, on iron and coal and then on coal and steel, it was perhaps inevitable that the high preponderance of basic industries would not survive, as tariff barriers came down in the aftermath of the second world war and as trade opened up in the late 1960s. Sadly, not only did our communities have to try to adjust to that perhaps natural decline, but we had a tremendous pressure on prices and costs because of the global economy—to use a shorthand term—from the mid-1980s onwards. We never had a chance fully to recover from one economic blow after another, as we have seen, yet again, with the steel industry.
When politicians are faced with those economic hurricanes, we rightly tend to believe that one way to deal with the problem is to ask the Government for more money, whether in grants, public expenditure or objective 1 funding. Some people want the Barnett formula to be changed; others want there to be tax holidays or havens, or whatever, but we all ask, quite rightly, for Government money. Government money can solve many problems, and it is forthcoming, but we should recognise that economic changes and upheavals, such as those we have seen in Wales, have an effect on the cultural, social and, indeed, moral fabric of the communities that have suffered from them.
If we are to attract good economic investment, which we need to do to raise the GDP per head, we must realise that money is not sufficient in itself. We must try to rekindle confidence by fostering a culture of excellence and achievement—perhaps, rekindling some basic moral values—for which those communities were rightly proud and in which they showed great success when they had the economic growth that was lost.
I shall digress a little from this perhaps rather rambling speech and tell the House that, some time ago, a successful national eisteddfod was held in Llanelli. Aficionados of such events will know that a publication, which is quite cheap and written in Welsh, containing all the entries—the poetry, prose, literature, drama and, indeed, the film scripts, which are now part of the competitions—and the adjudications on them is issued at the end of the eisteddfod. I have just finished reading the publication of the Llanelli eisteddfod. Frankly, it heartened me to read it, because there is still a culture of excellence, merit and achievement.
The publication is a great tribute to the adjudicators, who carefully consider all the entries and discuss their syntax, grammar and the imagination and language used—presumably, for little reward, because they enjoy doing so. It is also a tribute to those who have entered the competition, because they subject themselves to criticism. Perhaps this is no longer a society in which we want to subject ourselves to criticism, but they do so, and they are often sharply criticised. Of course, that is not an exercise in which "everyone's a winner, baby."
Certificates are not just handed out to everyone. In that perhaps minority area of cultural excellence, prizes are not awarded very often. People are criticised, but they are not given certificates. Perhaps we can learn something from the culture of excellence, attainment and rigour that can be seen in those adjudications and the national eisteddfod's publications. I am sure that that applies in other areas, not just to those Welsh circles.
Let us consider culture and excellence in Wales. Some social commentators maintain that a good way to assess the quality of a country's cultural attainments is to compare the quality of its broadsheet newspapers. Perhaps it is not a very good test, but some sociologists tell us that if a country can produce and sustain one or two well-written, well-analysed broadsheet newspapers, it says something about its sophistication and cultural achievements.
I have always wanted to be an adjudicator, and I shall now give my national eisteddfod-like adjudication. My French is not too good—being a Eurosceptic, perhaps I should not dare admit to knowing any French—so I shall confine myself to the countries of Britain and Ireland. The winner must be Ireland. Of course, such a test might be rather silly—I am not sure who is in the Gallery—but the winner is the Irish Times. By a short head, it is just in front of two or three of the London broadsheets that I assign to England even though they circulate throughout Britain.
I have given my first and second prizes and I would give my third prize to the Scots, who share it between The Scotsman and The Herald. In this eisteddfod, there is no fourth prize, so I am afraid that Wales does not get one. However, if there were a fourth prize, I would not tell the House to whom I would give it.
Why not? The Rhondda Leader gets fourth prize.
The Irish Times predates the Irish economic recovery that exercises all our minds and on which Plaid Cymru is trying to base most of its policies. I read recently in the Irish Times that Ireland is now crawling with economists who are trying to find out the reasons for Ireland's economic resurgence and success. They have not found them yet, but there are many reasons and I doubt whether most of them can be applied to Wales with the different structure of its economy in which the industrial revolution, among other things, played its part.
One reason why Ireland has done quite well may be the cultural sophistication, especially in terms of the English language, that it has shown in an age of communication. One of my Irish friends told me that he thought that the main reason for that goes back to the 1960s and to the education reforms of the Irish Prime Minister at that time, Sean Lemass. I am not an expert on British education and I am certainly not an expert on Irish education, so I do not understand the reasons for Ireland's success. However, I am old fashioned enough to believe that education—especially at secondary level—might be the answer to rebuilding the economic base of those of our communities that have suffered.
Secondary education in Wales is like secondary education in much of Britain: it is good in parts, bad in parts and the rest is middling. I have considered the league tables that The Times and other newspapers have published—no doubt, they are not always accurate—but I am delighted to see one or two Welsh schools in the first 50 on the lists. Let us be brutal: we do not see many Welsh schools in the first 50, but it is good to see them when they are there My impression is that certain areas of education in Wales do not match the best in England, Scotland or Ireland, and the education in those countries does not always equal the best in some continental countries such as those in Scandinavia, including Finland. A small country such as Wales could learn a lot from what happens in education there.
Recently, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister published a Green Paper. Like all Green Papers, parts of it were criticised and others were welcomed, but I believe that it contained many good ideas. A good case was made for some form of specialisation and for some specialised schools and units, even though much work needs to be done to flesh out the policy and to work out the practicalities.
However, I was disappointed when I read on Ceefax that the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning in the Assembly in Cardiff has apparently rejected out of hand the proposals in the Green Paper. Perhaps second thoughts have prevailed and things are different now, so perhaps I am being unfair to her. If I am, I apologise. None the less, I got the impression from the report that the Green Paper's proposals had been rejected almost out of hand.
Just as it was silly before devolution for Wales to follow slavishly what went on in England, it is also absurd after devolution to reject out of hand any proposals that might apply to England. We must try as far as we can—none of us is wholly objective—to assess as rationally as possible ideas when they are proposed. We might reject some because they are not applicable, but we should accept those ideas that we think we can apply.
For certain subjects, we must consider the notion of creating centres of excellence or special units so that we can lift the qualify of education in those subjects. Sciences and mathematics are a case in point. A recent report from the Select Committee on Science and Technology said that science and mathematics education in Britain was woeful and did not offer industry the type of graduates that it wanted.
It has been suggested that we cannot have special schools and units in Wales because we have a large rural hinterland and rural children could not travel to the special units. However, it is perfectly possible to provide sleeping arrangements and to use the latest e-mail and internet technology to teach science over long distances with no problem whatever.
I do not disagree with many of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks but does he agree that, in rural areas, we should take the opportunity to create a stronger and much more practical link between sixth forms and the colleges of education that already provide distance learning and high-quality courses, especially in west Wales? Colleges and schools must work much more closely together in the way that he advocates.
Indeed, that can be done. Agenda, a television production company in my constituency, not only produces television programmes but has internet technology that is as good as anything that can be found in Seattle. The company can do such work. Let us not put up barriers. It is possible to create centres of excellence—using either technology or clusters of institutions—where people can be educated.
I agree with the general thrust of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about excellence in Welsh schools. However, does he not agree that it is rather sad that, over a 20-year period, we have come full circle? After the destruction of so many good state schools and grammar schools in Wales, we now recognise the need to reinvent specialist schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and I both went to the same state grammar school in Swansea that my father went to in the 1920s. That school went downhill after its grammar school status was removed and now it is closing. Is that not rather sad?
I am a product of West Wales grammar school, but I do not take a romantic view of our school days. There were some good grammar schools and some very bad ones. The 11-plus was not a very successful mechanism; it left many children behind. Rather than looking romantically to the past, we must realise that in a modern world, in which there are global pressures on prices and costs, we must be up there with the highest global standards in education. If we are not, we shall not attract investment. We need some kind of specialisation—certainly in science and mathematics—to enable us to do that. I would argue for that, and I do not think that we should reject ideas out of hand simply because they appear in a Green Paper that technically applies only to England.
The story is not entirely gloomy. There is considerable growth in many areas. For instance, Cardiff is a successful city. I hope that people there realise that much of its wealth comes from the massive public expenditure on its economy. As a result, there are public servants, who get paid reasonably well, and professional firms of solicitors, accountants and management consultants who feed off it. I do not know how much actual wealth creation has occurred, and that is what is important if we are to lift the economy.
My right hon. Friend makes some fair points. Cardiff's productivity decreased considerably when the steel works closed and it experienced the problems that many other constituencies are experiencing now. However, there is another side to the argument. A capital city often gives people their first impression of a country. We have a mutual interest in the success of Cardiff and Llanelli.
I was not arguing a different case. However, the gap is even wider in Ireland, where there is a fear that, within the next 20 years, half the population of southern Ireland will live in Dublin or its suburbs. There is a problem. Obviously, we cannot denude Cardiff to help somewhere else, but we must recognise that it has received massive public expenditure.
We need public money, but the economic hurricane that has hit Wales in the past 20 or 30 years has caused tremendous social and cultural problems. We must try to return to the virtues of cultural excellence and the attainment of intellectual rigour, without which we will not rebuild those communities.
I warmly associate myself with the tributes to the late Lord Cledwyn, who was one of the greatest Welshmen of his generation. As we have heard, he was an extremely able and honest politician. In my early years, I also knew him as an able lawyer. He will be a great loss to Wales and to Parliament. I also associate myself with what the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said about Mr. Ian Spratling. Members of the Welsh Affairs Committee met him recently and found him to be a doughty fighter for the underprivileged. He will be greatly missed.
As for the skirmishes between the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and the Secretary of State about the mythical television punch-up that might appear from the ether, if it takes the hon. Member for Ribble Valley an hour to say what he did, a series of debates will be needed.
On miners' compensation claims, I welcome wholeheartedly the Government' s recent announcement. The change in direction will mean that there will be no deduction when compensation is paid to widows. Indeed, I called for that measure in a debate on 6 February, to which the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe responded. However, three or four issues are outstanding. I hope that my comments will be constructive.
We need more medical staff. I know that there may be a paucity of them in some areas, but it is my honest opinion that they should be drafted in and, if necessary, taken off elective work so that the claims can be processed quickly. The Department of Trade and Industry's predictions have never been met, but matters are improving.
I appreciate the constructive way in which the hon. Gentleman is approaching the problem, but the issue has been considered. I have sat on the monitoring group since its inception and we identified that as a weakness early on. Unfortunately, the medical profession and the requirements of the hon. Gentleman's profession with regard to the legal aspects of the medical assessment mean that we cannot accelerate the process. He talks about drafting people in, but from where?
They could come from other parts of the United Kingdom and work solely on the claims for the next few months.
We must beg to differ. I know that people are touchy about such uncomfortable issues, but I am trying to be constructive.
Before last week's announcement, which will involve about £40 million, the Department of Trade and Industry challenged the rights of widows to receive those payments in full. I welcome the Government's decision to reconsider that, but they should also examine the clawback. Many Labour Members agree with me. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who is not present—I am sure that he is on parliamentary work—has worked hard on that issue. We should all follow his example. It is ridiculous that in one case recovered money was initially calculated at £21,707, but was reduced to £6.38 on the third appeal. That decision cost thousands of pounds in processing costs and caused great worry for the person involved. The situation is abominable and I hope that the Government will realise that.
However, there is another side to the coin. I believe that it is wrong to claw back compensation, which is sometimes substantial, because the miner who is in receipt of it will never be back in full-time work. Indeed, many miners will not live long enough to consider such work.
The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), and he is right to mention the clawback. The assessment, which was based on the last five or six years of payment, is now made on the original five or six years. As a lawyer, the hon. Gentleman knows that the compensation took account of sick pay that was provided in the initial years.
This is where we might fall out. The clawback was introduced in September 1997, when the House was in recess. [Interruption.] I am certain of my facts. If the compensation clawback had not been introduced by statutory instrument in September 1997, it would not exist. Incidentally, it was introduced within a fortnight of the High Court issuing a preliminary judgment that it would find for the miners. We would have had to fall back on the 1989 Tory provision to exempt the miners. I question the Government's timing. However, I want them to consider their timing now and quickly scrap the recovery of compensation. It is immoral to recover large sums and a waste of time to recover smaller sums.
I am very unhappy with what the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the hon. Member for City of York (Mr. Bayley), told me when I argued that the miners were a special case. He said that they were not because he had constituents who were suffering from asbestos as a result of working for British Rail. I told him that I was not there to discuss them and that if he wanted to be a constituency MP, he should plead their case—but I was not interested to hear about them. He then gave a worse example and compared miners with nurses. I do not want nurses to put their backs out, but it is unlikely to kill them and they should be able to return to work. His attitude was strange. However, I am encouraged that progress is being made. It has coincided with the appointment of the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe, and I hope that more quickly follows.
The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) rightly said that the Welsh economy is good in parts, but we know that there are problems in some manufacturing sectors. No fewer than 18,000 manufacturing jobs in Wales have disappeared, and we know that the country is undergoing a structural change. We cannot look back and cling to the good old days when we had a coal industry and other heavy industry—those days are gone and we must look to the future. However, I am concerned that many of those jobs need not have disappeared.
I am sure that all hon. Members feel the same about Corns. The answers given by the company's chairman to the Welsh Affairs Committee on Thursday were unacceptable. I could use stronger words, and I have no doubt that stronger Words will be used at some point. The chairman said that there was overproduction so the company could not justify keeping the plant open. Having said that the plant was one of the most efficient in the UK, he said in the next breath that the economic situation in the UK did not help the company. He then bleated on about the euro and one thing and another. He was clutching at straws and his points were at variance with each other. One has to question the gentleman's veracity, and I have no doubt that he will be put to a strict test the next time he comes before the Committee.
That is absolutely appalling. To my knowledge, Corus is actively investing elsewhere in the world.
Yes Although the chairman denied it, I have an article from the Sydney Morning Herald that says the opposite. Such remarks are offensive to us all, no matter to which party we belong. One would have thought that such attitudes were a thing of the past and that people could not treat workers in that way. However, it seems that that is not the case.
We have been through all this before. I remember that in the early 1980s, when my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and I were Members of the European Parliament, a company called Johnson and Johnson, which makes baby products, had a brand new factory in Pontllanfraith, built with money from the Welsh Development Agency and supplied with superb equipment. The company suddenly closed it and transferred the operation to Kuijk in Holland. The then right hon. Member for lslwyn, Neil Kinnock, and I met the company chairman at Heathrow and he said that Pontllanfraith was far more efficient than the factory in Holland, but it would take him a year to sack people in Holland, whereas people in Wales could be sacked in two minutes. The heart of the problem is labour laws in Europe. We must achieve the right equation with those laws or get out of Europe and promote our own values.
The hon. Gentleman makes another robust contribution. No doubt that will be much quoted during the election campaign, but I am sure that he will worry little about that. I accept his point about the difference in treatment of workers in Holland and workers here. That gap must be closed, using European law or another means.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the complaint made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) could have been resolved at the Nice summit? For some reason, the Government did not resolve the problem of employment laws, which would have assisted steel workers because they could not have been sacked so summarily.
The hon. Gentleman is one step ahead of me. I was not aware that the problem could have been dealt with at the Nice summit, but I hope and pray that it will be dealt with shortly so that, at the very least, if we are presented with a fait accompli there is no repetition of the disgraceful behaviour by Corus or a similar outfit.
The right hon. Member for Llanelli pointed out that we are behind in knowledge-based industries. We know that whatever we say about increasing our manufacturing base, it will never be as strong as it was 30 or 40 years ago. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that there has to be a better partnership between schools, colleges and universities and business, manufacturing and industry. The Irish have done that very well. The Select Committee visited Ireland last year and we saw how universities are playing a proactive role in assisting industry not only in Ireland, but throughout the world. Students are bringing back PhDs from various parts of the world and bringing in investment, often from high-tech firms.
We can learn from that positive stance. Of course, there are many facets to it. Ireland has been careful to ensure that it implements all European directives and that it has good representation in the Commission and in all its key positions. It has been careful not to forget to ask for European money when it is available. In addition, the Irish people are very persuasive. I say good luck to them.
I will not get into the GDP argument except to say that there has been a 0.3 per cent. increase in Wales's GDP in the past couple of months. However that follows a 3 per cent. fall since 1997, when the Government took office, so it has not taken us far. Objective I will not be a panacea for all ills, but it gives us hope that we can improve our position.
The hon. Gentleman is right, and I should have phrased my remark better.
We face other problems. Parts of the UK are doing very well and other parts are doing very badly. One thinks of the north-east, the north-west and Wales. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry recently made a telling speech about the difference between the south-east and other more prosperous parts of the UK, and the way in which Wales is still lagging behind. He said:
Lack of investment, poor skills and education qualifications, these are some of the underlying causes we need to tackle. In the modern economy we cannot build a strong economy, a strong nation, if we have a tail of under performing regions.
Those are not necessarily the words that I would use. He continued:
We need all our regions firing on all cylinders.
I fully agree with that.
The new earnings survey recently showed that the average income for Great Britain as a whole is £21,842, while the average income in Wales is £19,134. There is a gap and we must continue to strive to close it. We could consider having more regional economic policies. For example, there is nothing to prevent the introduction of a corporation tax cut in an objective 1 area. There is nothing to prevent us from giving rent or tax holidays or introducing cuts in employers national insurance liability. Those are valid options that could be used if the political will existed.
The hon. Gentleman referred to a corporation tax cut in an objective 1 area. I do not know what definitions would be used, or how one would compute profits, but he is saying that any company just outside that area, such as a company in Newport vis-à-vis a company in Swansea, would pay a higher rate of tax on its profits.
No, that is not what I am saying. I said that there was a perfectly valid case for introducing such a tax cut in an objective 1 area.
The much-quoted chairman of Corus said that none of that was possible until he was questioned, when he said that it was possible. There is nothing to stop central Government considering other deprived areas such as those in England and Wales that are outwith the objective 1 areas.
If the Government really want to operate a regional economic policy, they can do it. It is all very well the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry simply describing the problems—an accusation levelled at the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey)—as he has done in several keynote speeches, but he has not to my knowledge responded to the clamour to adopt some form of regional policy whereby regional solutions are introduced to perk up a specific region, whether that be Wales, the north-east or north-west of England, or anywhere else.
No one is against so-called regional policy. I question how one could have regional differentials in corporation tax on profits. They do not have such a system in Ireland; the rate of corporation tax in the south of Ireland is the same as applies throughout the country. I find it difficult to imagine how one could operate a policy of differentials within Wales.
It still is, for the time being. In addition, part of the Irish success arises from the fact that the Government have pegged corporation tax at a very low rate until 2010, which is bound to be attractive to any inward investor. I wish that we could do something similar to attract inward investment.
On the question of regional competitiveness, in a recent publication Robert Higgins of the centre for advanced studies in Cardiff makes it clear that the south-eastern regions of England are driving economic growth and that there is a great difference between their situation and that of Wales, the north-east and Yorkshire. I acknowledge that there are problems, and I have mentioned some possible answers which I believe should be given consideration. Currently, there appears to be no political will to do anything other than describe what is happening and say, "Dear, dear—there's another few manufacturing jobs gone."
The 75p increase offered to pensioners in the 2000 Budget will go down in history as one of the biggest political gaffes. The recent pre-Budget statement contained an increase of £5 for a single pensioner and £8 for a pensioner couple, and I know about the television licences and the £200 winter fuel allowance, but, backed by the Age Concern manifesto recently received by all hon. Members, pensioners are telling me that they want a proper, decent pension that they can decide how to spend.
No, because other hon. Members want to speak and it would be unfair if I did not try to finish my remarks fairly soon.
Pensioners say that they want a proper pension and that they will decide how to spend it—that message comes from every pensioners' group. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will heed it and address the issue. There is no doubt that pensioners are being pushed to the fringes of society. Far too many depend on state handouts and benefits: despite having worked throughout their lives and giving their all to build a better country for our generation, they are now told to stand back and accept the odd handout now and then. It really is not good enough.
On student tuition fees, I declare an interest as one who currently has two children at university. Even though the expense is ruinous, I am not entering a special plea on my own behalf, because by investing in their education I am doing the sensible thing—at least, that is what I tell myself almost every night. None the less, I have to say that tuition fees are having the adverse effect that people predicted when they were introduced. There was a 4.2 per cent. fall in overall applications between 1996 and 1999, and a 14.3 per cent. decrease in applications from mature students. A recent study by the National Union of Students of working-class pupils in Hull shows that more than 50 per cent. were less likely to apply for university because of fees and loans. At the same time, applications in Scotland have increased by 19.2 per cent. since tuition fees were abolished. That is conclusive evidence.
Having recently met students at University college, Bangor and in Aberystwyth, I believe that that issue will have to be revisited soon. Students leave university, often without a job that they can go straight into, with debts of up to £12,000 hanging around their necks. That cannot be right. I know that, in their hearts, Labour Members feel as I do. We must ensure that we have education for all. In passing, I should like to point out that my father was a retired policeman and that had it not been for the fact that I received a full grant, I should never have become a lawyer. We dare not prevent talented young people from developing their talent; otherwise, we shall for ever be saying that Wales is uncompetitive.
We all have the current farming crisis on our mind. We welcome the Government's decisive action to end the crisis and their decision to apply for the agrimonetary compensation that, in the past, Governments have not been swift to claim. I hope that it will help farmers to get through this difficult period and that, in future, we have a Government who care for the countryside and want to develop positive policies for it.
I was extremely disappointed by the speech made by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. He spent almost an hour quoting press reports and historic bits and pieces, press cuttings and radio excerpts, many of which did not set out the facts, but reflected the gloss that commentators had put on what had been said. Given his frequent references to a forth coming general election—it has not yet been announced, but he seems sure that there will be one and that it will result in a Conservative Government—I was surprised that he did not compare the 18 years in which the Conservatives were in power with the four years in which the Labour party has been in power. The comparisons are most instructive.
Let us consider unemployment. When the Conservatives left office after 18 years, their legacy in Wales was an unemployment rate of 6.5 per cent., or 80,000 people. By their standards, that was incredibly good, especially compared with the figures for some of the preceding years: at times, more than twice as many people had been unemployed during the wonderful Tory years. Yet after only four years, the Labour Government have managed to cut unemployment in Wales by about 20 per cent. There are now slightly fewer than 60,000 people unemployed in Wales. We have made significant inroads into the terrible Conservative unemployment record.
Let us examine other economic measures, such as interest rates. During the four years of the Labour Government, interest rates have been on average 4 per cent. lower than they, were during the Tory years. Under the Tories, we had double-digit interest rates for four years. At one point they were as high as 15 per cent.—more than twice the rates seen under the Labour Government—and industry suffered, home owners suffered negative equity and other problems abounded. Yet in four years, the Labour Government have turned that record round: we now have the lowest mortgage rates, the lowest long-term interest rates and the healthiest prospects for economic growth that have been seen since the second world war—or even in this century. Although I am no expert in these matters, I should not be surprised to learn that the latter is true.
I shall not overstate to my case, because the comparison between Labour's four-year record and the Conservatives' 18-year record makes it clear. Under the Tories, growth was 2 per cent., whereas we have managed 2.7 per cent., which is reflected in the way in which we have been able to tackle unemployment. There are about 40,000 more jobs in Wales now than there were when the Tories left office.
We have been able to turn the record round, and not by means of the boom-and-bust economics of Tory Governments. They would introduce financial cuts and then increase public expenditure, first, we drew our breath and kept a firm hand on public expenditure over the first couple of years. Once we had the economy right, we expanded public expenditure. It is instructive to compare what happened in the last few years of the Tory Government with what has happened under the Labour Government. In the last three years of the Tory Government, public expenditure as expressed in the public service functions held by the Welsh Office increased by 2.2 per cent. and 2 per cent., and, when we came to power, the Tories were planning an increase of 0.4 per cent. for 1997–98.
We had to take some difficult decisions about not suddenly expanding public expenditure, in order to get the economy right first. After 1997–98, public expenditure under the Labour Government increased by 2.7 per cent. In 1999–2000, it increased by 8.2 per cent. It then increased by 6.5 per cent., and there are planned expenditure increases of 10 per cent., 8.2 per cent. and 7.1 per cent. These figures show clearly how the Government have grasped the economy and are now able to put additional expenditure into public services. All that has been done with an expanding economy.
Let us consider the prosperity index. There have been many arguments about gross domestic product, but in the Tory years the relative position of Wales in the GDP league of the United Kingdom declined. The Labour Government have begun to address these problems, and improvements are being made in Wales. Perhaps more important in many ways, average earnings are increasing.
In 1999–2000, average earnings in Wales increased by 4.1 per cent. That increase was greatly helped by the introduction of the national minimum wage, which the official Opposition opposed. They are now saying grudgingly that they will not oppose the increase announced today, to £4.10 an hour, because firms are beginning to get their computerised systems ready for next October. We know that most Conservative Members would like to get rid of the minimum wage, which has been so helpful in improving incomes, and especially those of women in Wales.
The working families tax credit has helped about 67,000 families in Wales. On average, it is worth about £30 more than the old family credit Child benefit has been increased significantly—there was the greatest ever increase of 25 per cent. this year. Given all the changes that have been made to taxation and social security, families with children are about £850 a year better off than they were in 1997.
The new deal has helped to put more people back to work. We know that 28,000 jobless people have been helped. It is a new deal that the Conservative party would want to get rid of entirely. About 18,000 people have been helped back into work and about 10,000 have been helped back into education or further training.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) talked about pensions. We all know that the 75p increase was a mistake, but many pensioners say that they are glad that the Government are providing a winter fuel allowance of £200. They are glad also that the over-75s do not pay £104 for their television licences. They are glad as well that in April a single pensioner will receive a £5 a week increase, and that married couples will have an £8 a week increase, with promises of above-inflation increases in years to come.
Pensioners have seen the Government getting the economy right. We are now ensuring that pensioners are receiving an above-inflation share and an above-average-earnings share of public expenditure. Pensioners do not want to lose the winter fuel allowance. It is tax free and does not cause reductions in social security money if it is received as well.
The Government's record is extremely good after a difficult two years. I shall be more than proud to campaign, whenever the general election comes, on the four years of this Labour Government set against any of the 18 Tory years, safe in the knowledge that no other party could form a Government to look after the interests of Wales.
I begin my contribution to this annual debate with the annual plea for a bank holiday in Wales on St. David's day. The Minister will have heard the plea many times; indeed, it is sometimes made by Labour Back Benchers. I shall introduce a little more information this evening. Some interesting research was conducted last summer by ICM, which claimed that we suffer from a bank holiday deficit in the United Kingdom. The findings of the research put us at the bottom of the European Union league table for bank holidays. It is well known that Wales has fewer bank holidays than even Northern Ireland, for example.
Another fact that emerged from the research was that the area of the United Kingdom that most wanted a bank holiday on its patron saint's day was Wales. It appears that 86 per cent. of Welsh people want a bank holiday first and foremost on St. David's day. If the Government were to introduce such a bank holiday, it would be popular.
I can make a claim for St. David on behalf of Ceredigion. His mother, Non, was born in Ceredigion at Llannon, and his most famous synod was held at Llanddewibrefi in Cerdigion, where the ground rose beneath him and he took on and defeated the Pelagion heresy. I will not explain that to the House, but I understand that it is the achievement of salvation through good deeds, with which we on these Benches agree.
Unfortunately, in doing so, St. David took on the Celtic Church, and romanised it. At one level, he could be viewed as a rather poor patron saint for Celtic Wales as it then was, but history is written by the victors. I think that we can ultimately see St. David as a good patron saint for Wales. He took Wales into Europe, which is the policy of my party.
St. David is accredited with saying—it was one of his last words—
Gwnewch y pethau bychain.
That means, do the little things. I ask Members on the Government Front Bench to take that approach and to make St. David's day a bank holiday in Wales and to include a question about Welsh identity in the census form. Those little things would make the new Labour party much more popular in Wales than even it claims to be.
To move on to slightly more serious matters, it can be seen that Wales is starting to feel that new Labour has turned its back on some of the core values of the Welsh people. That is shown by the acknowledgment of the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe that apathy will rule the general election. How is it that a new Labour Government cannot encourage their core supporters to vote for the Labour party? We shall see whether apathy delivers any seats to the Conservative party. It does not deserve any seats, but perhaps apathy will deliver one or two seats to it. I think that campaigning, not apathy, will offer one or two seats to my party.
Views in Wales started on the periphery, with the Government's attitude to rural issues and to the difficulties with post offices and fuel taxes. They began with the crisis in farming, which has been exacerbated in the past few days. Those issues have underpinned problems in Wales for some time. The attitudes have reached the valleys, the core areas of Wales. They are reflected in the problems in the steel industry with Corus and in the difficulties that the Government have had with miners' compensation. We are seeing clearly that Wales is taken for granted by the Labour party, and that new Labour's sights, in terms of tactics and policy, are focused on the south and middle of England.
Whenever the general election is held, the Government will have to show how they are responding to issues that concern the people of Wales. Given the current foot and mouth crisis in Wales, I hope that the Government and the Prime Minister will not call an election when we cannot campaign in rural areas. The Minister has rural areas in his constituency, and I am sure that he has attended many marts during election campaigns. If we cannot go around rural areas attending marts, visiting farms and our constituents and encouraging them to vote, that will be seen as a poor show and shoddy behaviour by the Prime Minister in calling an election.
If the disease is under control, things may be difficult. In that context, coming to Westminster today and driving to the train station this morning was a very sad business indeed. As I passed through my constituency and that of the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Mr. Williams), all that I could see was empty and deserted farms. All that I saw was straw at every farm entrance; all that I smelt was the strong, penetrating smell of disinfectant at every farm entrance. With this latest blow, the countryside is in terrible shape. I know that we cannot blame that blow on the Government, but it has made the situation far worse.
I am grateful that the Prime Minister has now acknowledged, late in the day, that this Government and previous Governments have pursued policies that have exacerbated the current foot and mouth crisis. One of those policies is the encouragement of the closure of small abattoirs, leading to the transportation of stock over huge distances. When we saw the first map showing foot and mouth outbreaks and traced the disease throughout the United Kingdom, we immediately realised how the closure of small rural abattoirs had affected farming in this country.
I urge the Minister to take back three messages to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and his colleagues in the National Assembly for Wales. Although the response from the Government so far has been good and welcome, some things still need to be addressed. The first is the welfare-related movements of animals. A lot of ewes are still waiting to be lambed, and some calves are at a distance from farms; they cannot be brought back without breaking the present restriction orders. That creates welfare problems for animals and great difficulties for farmers. I hope that the Government will look at that issue extremely quickly.
Secondly, I welcome the fact that, from today, the Government are allowing some movement of animals to abattoirs for slaughter. Within that, however, we need to look at allowing some movement for welfare needs, if a flock is disease free. As for the movement to abattoirs, I hope that the Government will ensure that the remaining small abattoirs will be included in the scheme and the licensing for slaughter. A local butcher in Aberystwyth, Rob Rattray, has always had his animals slaughtered at Tregaron, which is a small abattoir. He knows that the animal that he gets from the farm is slaughtered locally and that the carcase that he gets is that same animal. He has an excellent reputation for telling his customers from which farm a certain animal comes. Credibility and faith are being restored to much of the meat industry in west Wales both by intimate knowledge of where the product comes from and the higher standards that are being followed. Mr. Rattray is rightly concerned that, if he has to use a faraway abattoir, whether in Merthyr Tydfil, the west country or wherever, he will have difficulty in giving his customers that assurance.
The third element that the Government need to look at is compensation. Of course, agrimonetary compensation is to be welcomed, but the compensation that is now being drawn down represents 54 per cent. of what farm incomes are suspected to be next year. That is how bad farming has become in Wales; £900 will be as much as 54 per cent. of a farm's income in the next year. However, that is a separate issue. I hope that the Government will not put any spin on agrimonetary compensation and say that it is something to do with foot and mouth. It is not; it is to do with the strength of the pound and the difficulties of receiving support payments as the result of the strength of the pound against the euro.
Agrimonetary compensation is welcome in helping farms' cashflow, but it has nothing to do with compensation for foot and mouth, which must be looked at. Of course, fallen stock compensation is available for stock that is destroyed, but account must be taken of consequential losses. We must be careful how far those losses can, or should, go, but account must be taken of the impact of losing so much business on a farming industry already on its knees. No doubt, the Minister already knows that the lamb market had just come back to life this spring aid was ready for Welsh farmers to start rebuilding their lamb industry and consumer confidence at a decent farmgate price, when foot and mouth broke out. Ministers and the Government are not to blame for that, but they can do something to help the industry reach the position it had almost reached.
We have lost 73 farming jobs a week in Wales; we have lost 3,800 jobs in agriculture in the past year alone. There has been a 10 per cent. decline in the number of people employed in agriculture. More than 6,000 jobs are to be added to the 18,000 jobs lost in manufacturing. That drives many of us to feel that the days of the traditional family farm in Wales, which has been so important in supporting the Welsh language and culture, may be under serious threat. A recent survey, "New entrance to land markets", found that 39 per cent. of farms were being bought by non-farmers. Stock in Wales is down by about 5 per cent. Farmgate prices, which were at a high in 1995, have undergone a 90 per cent. Drop
No industry can survive such blows without restructuring and alteration; we all understand that. The question is how to preserve the best qualities of the Welsh family farm and its huge environmental and cultural contribution and ensure that they continue in future. The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) who, unfortunately, is not in his place, made an interesting speech and praised the contribution of the Llanelli national eisteddfod. If he looked at the individuals who contributed to that eisteddfod, he would see that an unusually high proportion of contributions were made by Welsh farming families to Welsh language and culture.
I recently saw that for myself in the young farmers' clubs annual performance night, which was of an incredibly high standard. The contributors used all sorts of media to present their ideas to an audience. When we witness that in the Welsh language, we know what we are in danger of losing, unless we do everything that we can to protect an industry, a way of life and an environment. All three things are bound up together.
In that context, the Prime Minister's acceptance that supermarkets have farmers in an armlock is to be welcomed. We did not have that acceptance last September or October, when the report on the supermarket industry was presented, but it is welcome now.
A debate on the future of farming is starting to be held in Welsh and United Kingdom public life. What are we farming for? We are no longer farming for a post-war world, and are no longer farming for all of our needs. We import much more than we farm ourselves. What is farming for? What are the unique features of British and Welsh farming that we want to preserve and encourage?
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully. Given what he has just said about the Prime Minister's reference to supermarkets, will he acknowledge that the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, in its inquiry into the livestock industry in Wales, recommended that the role of supermarkets should be referred to the Office of Fair Trading? That led to the recommendation of the Competition Commission that there should be a code of practice. Our Select Committee made the original recommendation.
I certainly acknowledge that the Select Committee played an important role in that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the matter did not quite get to where the Select Committee cloud have liked it to get. However, in the context of the current crisis, there may be an opportunity to use legislation to get the code of practice that he mentioned on to the statute book, so that we have a much firmer idea of how relationships between farm producers, consumers and supermarkets should work.
We have obviously hit on an eminent Government Member who would make a very good chief executive.
I will not go any further down that avenue, except to note that most trolleys end up in the river.
On a serious note, may I move on to what this debate engenders concerning the future of farming? Broadly, there are three ways forward for farming in Wales. First, we must improve and support the traditional family farm; there must still be a role for it. A second way is to encourage and make greater use of organic farming in Wales, support for which must be increased. A third way is non-food farming. Energy crops are a clear way forward.
The traditional family farm would still need to be supported as part of such a strategy. We must have a young entrants scheme in Wales. The National Assembly's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee has considered the matter, but unfortunately the Lib-Lab Government there have not yet seen fit to introduce such a scheme. In Ireland, the scheme has brought down the average age of farmers from 57 to 50, which is quite a success, and has allowed young farmers to enter farming. Funding is available from the European Union. As many hon. Members know, the plan hinges on an early retirement scheme, which encourages young farmers to go into farming. That needs to be introduced in Wales.
We need an identity logo for Welsh produce. The case must be argued at a European level. We will not restore faith and confidence in our produce until we can demonstrate that a cut of meat was packaged somewhere in Wales and that it is genuine Welsh produce, produced by Welsh farmers to the highest welfare standards and to the best standards for the food that we want to eat in Wales. Through the National Farmers Union British farm standard, there must be a way of working with the industry and the supermarkets to introduce a Welsh produce logo that means something.
Finally, the Food Standards Agency, which has made an encouraging start on some of these matters, must take firmer action against poor quality meat imports, as we have discovered over the past few weeks and days. It is a sad fact that the two farming unions in Wales have been saying for months that poor quality meat imported from other parts of the continent, sometimes through Irish channels directly into Wales, has been undermining our meat industry in the UK. It seems that that may have been one source of foot and mouth.
We know that meat from Germany has been found to be contaminated with spinal residue, which is not allowed under the BSE regulations. We know, therefore, that there is a big job to be done by the Food Standards Agency to give further reassurance to consumers and, more important, support to our hard-pressed farmers.
I mentioned biomass and energy crops, but as I have previously spoken about that I shall not pursue the subject now. I will, however, say a little more about organic food and farming. I am sponsoring a private Member's Bill to give greater support to organic farming. There is an opportunity now for the Government to take that jump and put into practice their warm words about organic farming.
The second report recently from the Select Committee on Agriculture on organic farming presented a positive attitude on the way forward. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has set not a target, but an outcome, as it is called, of about 5 per cent. of land in England to become organic, under the rural White Paper for England. In Wales, the National Assembly has a 10 per cent. target for organic conversion.
My Bill calls for a 30 per cent. target for organic conversion in the next 10 years. We need to achieve that. We are underplaying our opportunities. We import 70 per cent. of our organic cereals and 90 per cent. of our organic apples. We should surely be able to produce apples in the UK. We even import organic meat. In view of the condition of the meat industry in Wales and the rest of the UK, that surely should not continue. The Select Committee report acknowledged that in countries such as Sweden and Austria, setting targets had made a huge contribution to the move from a very low proportion of organic farming to 10 or 11 per cent. within four or five years.
I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to open a debate on farming and to examine the virtues of organic farming, to see how we can implement them in Wales to give Welsh agriculture a vibrant future. The Government have been able to draw down agrimonetary compensation and, on occasion, to apply sticking plaster to parts of Welsh agriculture, but there are more fundamental problems to deal with.
If we do not want Welsh agriculture, like the steel and the coal industries, to be denuded of infrastructure and to become an occupation at which people play part-time as hobby farmers, if we want real farms to produce real food that people want to eat and if we want to keep alive our countryside, heritage, traditions and language, there must be a sea change in attitude towards agriculture, not only among the Government, but throughout public policy, including much of the media.
Against the background of wider rural decline, which has seen the closure of post offices in rural areas, I shall mention a further constituency interest—the future of magistrates courts in Ceredigion. When I raised the matter in the Welsh Grand Committee, the Minister showed a flicker of interest, which was encouraging. I must tell him that matters have worsened since then. There is now a firm proposal to close all three magistrates courts in Ceredigion at Aberystwyth, Cardigan and Lampeter, and a vague proposal to build a new one at Aberaeron.
I have my constituency office at Aberaeron, on the grounds that it is equally inconvenient to all, but justice should not be equally inconvenient to all. It is vital that people can access magistrates courts in a rural area such as Ceredigion, and that victims can reach the courts to hear their cases. The Home Secretary said last week how important victims would be in the Government's latest initiative on crime reduction. Victims of crime in my constituency do not want to travel two hours a day to get to a court where their case may or may not be heard and where they may or may not see justice done.
The proposal to close magistrates courts in Ceredigion is reflected throughout Dyfed Powys. Cases from Aberystwyth may be transferred to Aberaeron. That also means that cases from Machynlleth will be transferred to Aberaeron. Cases from Cardigan will be transferred to Haverfordwest, and cases from Lampeter down to Carmarthen. I can tell the Minister that people in west Wales will fight the proposals tooth and nail.
I understand that the Government may not be happy about the possible impact of some of the changes, but the Lord Chancellor's Department is setting such stringent financial targets and such stringent targets for the process of justice that the difficulties in rural areas are not being taken into account.
Eighteen per cent. of people in Ceredigion walk to court in order to attend their cases. Closing the courts in towns such as Cardigan and Aberystwyth and forcing people to travel some distance will have a huge and detrimental effect, and will not make the Government popular. They may not have hopes of winning Ceredigion, but they may hope to win other parts of Dyfed Powys. Despite the Government's attempts to blame the magistrates court committee, the proposals are seen as part of their plans.
I close by reiterating some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) about the difficulties that we are experiencing with higher education in Wales. Unfortunately, the National Assembly, under the Lib-Lab Government, has not yet seen fit to make a specific funding allocation for the higher education sector in Wales. That is the context for the useful comments of the right hon. Member for Llanelli. There has been significant movement in higher education in England, but, as the right hon. Gentleman said, such things are not always replicated in Wales. That is partly because the education budget in Wales has been raided to provide match funding for objective 1. That is the truth, whatever Ministers may say.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy said, there has been a 14 per cent. fall in the number of mature students. I have two universities, Lampeter and Aberystwyth, in my constituency. Lampeter was a niche market for mature students—a quiet market town to which they could bring their families. The fall in numbers has had a huge effect on Lampeter, and it has been exacerbated by the closure of Dewhirst, the clothing manufacturer, with the loss of 170 mainly female jobs.
Seventy-three per cent. of students are in debt. The average graduate debt is £7,584, but that is expected to rise significantly. It is calculated that the average graduate debt after a three-year course will soon be £9,000 or £10,000. We have nor yet seen the full effect. Universities are expelling thousands of students every year because, according to The Independent on Sunday of 28 January, they cannot pay their bills for rent or tuition. It has been proposed that there should be top-up fees for the most prestigious universities, but fortunately that has been rejected by the Government. Figures produced by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales reveal that teenagers in the valleys of south Wales are three times less likely to go to university. The imposition of tuition fees and of student loans cannot help that situation. The Government must consider urgently what has been done in Scotland and support the proposals that the National Assembly for Wales is investigating. If we do not secure funding for students and investment for the future of Wales, we will be in danger of squandering the opportunities that may be provided by objective 1 status and of losing the high-tech developments to which my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy referred.
I turn now to my final comments—[Interruption.] I have spoken for less than half the time taken on behalf of the Tories, who do not even have a Member of Parliament who represents a Welsh constituency.
We hear often in debates on Wales about the wonders of job creation by Labour. Exploration of that argument from the point of view of Ceredigion will perhaps shatter the myth. Since 1997, the Government's policies, or at least the general atmosphere, has created 100 new jobs in Ceredigion. That is the total increase since 1997. Of course, I am grateful for 100 extra jobs in Ceredigion, but that increase is unfortunately not matched by the other side of the equation—the slack in the work force. The slack consists of people who could do jobs but do not appear on the official statistics, for various reasons. Unfortunately, their number has increased by 200.
My figures for Ceredigion, which were produced by the Department for Education and Employment, show that 1,581 people were unemployed in May 1997. In May 2000, however, that figure had fallen to 1,158, which shows that there had been a drop of 400 people.
My figures, which come from the unemployment unit, are obviously different from those of the Under-Secretary. Clearly, we will have to exchange statistics.
I was about to conclude by saying that the slack in the work force in Ceredigion has increased by 200 people since the Government took office in 1997. I think that that might be correct even according to the Under-Secretary's figures. As I said, the slack consists of people who could take up jobs and want to do so, but are not yet employed.
The Government still have a great deal of work to do in west Wales and in Wales as a whole. They are likely to be returned to power after the election—not in Wales, but in the United Kingdom. They have a huge job to do and I hope that they will do it with a little more enthusiasm, rather than with the reluctance of their first three years in office.
Having represented Ceredigion, Brecon and Radnor, Llanelli, Swansea and Carmarthen in the European Parliament for five years, I am well aware of some of the problems that have been mentioned. Before I speak about those problems, I commend to hon. Members some of the practices of the European Parliament. First, Members can obtain refreshment in the debating chamber during debates. I suspect that that would have been welcomed by the hon. Members who are now present, many of whom will now be thoroughly dehydrated. Secondly, we knew in which order we were to speak in respect of our parties, and how long we could speak for. If a Member spoke for longer than the allotted time, the excess was taken from his or her party, which affected the subsequent speakers. That was a good way of organising business. Perhaps we should consider such procedures, as well as electronic voting, when we discuss change in this place. I could speak for quite a long time about virtues of the European Parliament that could be transferred to this place.
I should like to join the hon. Members who have spoken about Cledwyn Hughes, who was a man of great generosity. When I first stood for Parliament in 1970, in a constituency that was held by the Tories with a majority of 25,000, not many people even from my own party were prepared to help a struggling candidate, but Cledwyn Hughes was one of those who were. For candidates who were standing for the first time, Cledwyn was a great help and inspiration, and I shall sorely miss him.
As the community that I represented was based half on farming and half on steel, I am well aware of the residual problems of the farmers of Wales. One of my brothers-in-law is a small farmer on Anglesey and is currently extremely worried. My other brother-in-law was a vet in Ceredigion and has recently retired. I spoke to him last night, and I am glad to say that he has never seen a case of foot and mouth disease.
Those of us who have seen against the night sky the funeral pyres of the cattle, sheep and pigs that have been burnt throughout the country during the past few days have been horrified. Many of us have asked whether such measures are necessary, and whether there is an alternative. I am told that outbreaks of foot and mouth disease occurred almost annually in the 19th century and the early 20th century, without anybody batting an eyelid. Of course people do not die of foot and mouth disease, and most animals recover from it. We are told, however, that it is an economic disease.
Modern farming is so intensive and dependent on the drive for higher productivity and lower costs, and most modern farms are run on such tight budgets, that they will not allow an animal with the equivalent of a bad cold to recover, and they cannot delay the date when it is sent for slaughter. It appears that modern farming cannot tolerate the inconvenience caused by temporarily sick animals that produce less milk and meat. I suggest that that is an appalling reflection on what we expect of our farmers.
The last time I heard the figures, there were 70 cases of foot and mouth in the country as a whole, although fortunately only three have so far occurred in Wales. Whatever the source of the current outbreak, the mass transporting of animals across Britain and over national borders from farms to centralised abattoirs has spread the disease further and faster. In the past few years, Britain's network of small local abattoirs, which some of my hon. Friends have mentioned, has almost been closed down. As a result, animals are being carried far greater distances to slaughter than ever before. That means that infectious animal diseases are much more likely to be spread throughout the country. Long journeys to slaughter make it almost impossible to confine the disease to the area from which it came, which contrasts with the days when animals were sent to a nearby abattoir.
Animal welfare groups have long argued that the practice of sending animals on long-distance journeys should be ended, as well as the live animal export trade. The UK exports about a million sheep and lambs a year to continental abattoirs. Many of them go as far as Italy and Greece. Such long journeys not only inflict huge suffering on animals, but could spread disease throughout Europe. The trade has been halted during the crisis, and it should never be resumed.
Last year, I introduced a private Member's Bill on the welfare of broiler chickens. It failed. It was talked out and the Government did not support it, which was a mistake. I am ashamed that I knew so little about broiler chickens until I gained a place in the ballot, but 800 million broiler chickens are reared for meat in the United Kingdom each year, and most are kept in massive windowless sheds that are so overcrowded that the floors cannot be seen.
The packed conditions mean that it is impossible to inspect the birds properly. Consequently, millions are diseased or injured, and die without receiving treatment. Growth-promoting antibiotics and rich diets are used to ensure that chickens reach their slaughter weight in only 41 days—twice as fast as 30 years ago. Chickens' hearts and lungs cannot keep pace with such growth, and each year several million die of heart disease before they are six weeks old.
Broilers used for breeding are put on severely restricted feeding regimes. That means that they are starved, because farmers do not want them to reach the weight of the other broilers and thereby suffer the same health problems and early death associated with reaching such weights so quickly. However, they still suffer the same health problems and early death.
Poor conditions also pose serious risks to human health. A couple of years ago, a report revealed that one in three broilers was infected with salmonella, and that 44 per cent. were contaminated with a similar disease. An article published by The Observer suggested that the potentially deadly strain of salmonella may have been released into the food chain by the poultry industry. Much more research has been conducted on the same subject.
Farming does not need another food scare. In the wake of BSE and genetically modified foods, consumers have shown that they are sophisticated and will not buy what they regard as unsafe food. The then deputy president of the NFU said:
as fast as we deal with one food safety problem, another crops up".
I am listening to the hon. Lady's speech with great interest. She talked about the sophistication of the consumer, but does she agree that sometimes people are worried by scare stories and consumers can be a little too sophisticated, thus damaging farming, and in some instances are not protecting their families because the dangers do not exist?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not heard that a few weeks ago, Which? considered chickens for sale in supermarkets and found that a high proportion were infected with salmonella. Most people would like to know that their purchases are safe and that they will not be infected with salmonella. The sort of production that I described is not conducive to that. The arguments for more natural methods of food production have been reopened, unfortunately through an outbreak of foot and mouth. As hon. Members have said, the Prime Minister has promised to work out a basis for sustainable agriculture for the long term.
One farmer wrote in The Independent on Sunday yesterday:
My nearest abattoir is just over 30 miles away on a good road … it closed for six months last year but has since been rescued by a local concern. This means that my cattle have less stress and the butcher I sell to can hang, them for three weeks—the supermarkets rarely hang for more than a few days.
The farmer's next comment was referred to earlier. He said:
My local butcher includes a provenance note with his meat, explaining the rearing and treatment, food and medication the animal received.
The more you can help to reduce the intensive farming that the supermarkets encourage the better.
No one disagrees with that. However, most of Britain's pigs and poultry are I armed intensively.
Compassion in World Farming claims that such systems impose great stress on animals. That leads to their immune systems becoming vulnerable to disease. Foot and mouth disease is the second infectious outbreak to hit Britain's farming industry in months, following the outbreak of swine fever last year. That must call farming methods and husbandry into question again. In crowded conditions, animals cannot live naturally. They are therefore highly stressed and more vulnerable to disease.
We need to move to systems that are safer and more humane. Yes, customers might have to pay a little more for their food, but we could have a better farming system so long as the supermarkets played the game too. The EU spends £25 billion a year on the common agricultural policy. Part of that money should be used to help farmers move from industrialised systems to a more humane and responsible policy that also conserves and manages the countryside.
There have been arguments about the drastic policy of slaughter and about vaccination. The professor of microbiology at Cardiff university, Professor Julian Wimpenny, said in a letter to The Guardian:
Total elimination of a disease without the cover of vaccination is a desperately high risk approach, especially when the disease has appeared in many other countries in recent years and is highly contagious. Humans and animals are equipped with a marvellous device known as the immune system which, if stimulated appropriately as Louis Pasteur showed more than a century ago, can prevent infection … The unedifying spectacle of thousands of perfectly healthy pigs slaughtered and burned could easily have been avoided if a strategy of vaccination had been pursued, especially as it seems that the Government has millions of doses of vaccine available.
I know that there have been arguments about vaccination, but Julian Wimpenny is, after all, professor of microbiology at Cardiff university. He ends by saying:
I suppose that vaccination of animals is just too expensive for our cost-conscious society to cope with.
Finally, we are all to blame. Not many people have much idea of how our food is produced, unless a disease such as BSE or E. coli presses our panic buttons. As long as we get our ready-to-eat chickens for £2.50, or our bargain-basement beef for £3, in a hermetically sealed pack, we do not pay much attention to how it gets to us. We tolerate the fact that the animals that we eat can be fed on ground animal remains, stuffed full of antibiotics and made to live in inhumane conditions. Unhealthy animals mean unhealthy food and unhealthy human beings. Surely no one in their right mind would choose to continue to support that situation.
I shall finish with a quote front the NFU, which arrived today:
Although the scale and long-term implications of this outbreak of foot and mouth disease cannot yet be assessed, it has potential implications for every citizen in terms of the security and cost of the nation's food supply, the economy, and the management of the environment and the countryside"—
and, I would add, humanity towards animals.
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter), I was not born in Swansea, although my mother was born in Aberavon, which is not too far from there, and I have spent a considerable amount of time in Wales. My mother was a fluent Welsh speaker. I have always been keen on learning foreign languages, if I can call Welsh a foreign language in this debate.
I suspect that "foreign" is the wrong word to use in this debate, although it is a sad fact that technically, according to the rules of the House, Welsh is a foreign language in that we are not allowed to use it other than in short, illustrative instances. It is a great regret to me that my mother did not speak Welsh to me, so that I could have been as fluent in Welsh as I am in French and German.
Were my mother here, she would give the hon. Gentleman the riposte that he deserves. Were I to give him the riposte that he deserves in that language, I would be out of order. It is out of order to intervene or make lengthy contributions in Welsh, which is unfortunate—but I can understand why. Outside the Chamber, the hon. Gentleman may tell me precisely what he said. I can assume only that it was highly complimentary, because outside the Chamber he is an hon. Friend indeed.
A few hours ago, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced a national minimum wage of £4.10 an hour. As I said then, I have never objected in principle to a minimum working wage provided that it is set at a sensible rate. Sadly, in Wales, both in agriculture and in tourism, many people will not enjoy that minimum working wage. Three weeks ago, I was in the constituency of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), staying at the guest house of Mrs. Pugh, which is called Dolfanog Fach, in Talyllyn, Gwynedd. I spent two healthy days there, perhaps, preparing for the general election, and climbed Cader Idris in almost record time. I then went on a 17-mile walk, which would not be possible now because of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
I simply make the point that, like many people who work for themselves in the tourist industry, Mrs. Pugh and her son, who work at Dolfanog Fach, do not earn the minimum working wage. We should never forget that although a minimum working wage is set for those who are employed, the self-employed often cannot enjoy that luxury. That is certainly the case for many of the 31,700 farmers who work in Wales.
Let us remind ourselves of the position of Welsh farming. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) described in some detail the plight in which Welsh farmers find themselves: 3,800 people—73 every week—left the Welsh agriculture industry in 2000. They did so not because they voluntarily gave up fanning, but because they simply could not make a living. A National Farmers Union audit showed that 62 per cent. of farmers were working more than 61 hours a week. The Government have set a minimum working wage and they are trying to set maximum working hours, but those are hard to deliver in practice.
I remind the House that, as I have been reminded by the National Farmers Union of Wales, at the farm gate Welsh dairy farmers receive 3p a pint less for their milk than it costs to produce. The union denounced the drastic fall in incomes and in February, before the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease, called that a "disaster for the industry". The statistics on total income from farming released by the National Assembly reveal that incomes for those working in the agriculture industry in Wales fell by a staggering £60 million in 2000, to stand at minus £2.6 million.
As recently as 12 February, Hugh Richards, president of NFU Cymru, said:
What this starkly demonstrates is that the total value of agricultural output in Wales was actually less than the total cost of producing that output.
Other industries in farming, not just the dairy industry, have been affected. He continues:
Our politicians talk about the tender green shoots of recovery"—
I have heard that somewhere before—
but these figures are the clearest evidence yet that the Government's fiscal policy is decimating our industry.
The Welsh Assembly has claimed that the main reason for the fall in income was a fall in output, and in the subsidies for produce, which were £58 million lower. There is real concern about the future of farming in Wales. A 1998 survey by the National Farmers Union in England found that the children of two thirds of its members did not want to take over the farms because they could not see a future for the industry. As I said, people are already leaving the farming industry in Wales. That is desperately sad.
As we all know, the entire industry is under threat from foot and mouth disease. Wales has so far been hit by three confirmed cases, although I fear that there may be more cases by now. They are at an abattoir at Gaerwen on Anglesey, and farms at Painscastle near Hay-on-Wye and Felindre near Newtown. Others are under investigation.
The position of farming in Wales is grave. It is grave in the United Kingdom as a whole, but it is particularly difficult in Wales, which has a varied and difficult landscape in which to farm, especially for hill farmers. It is all very well for the Government to announce provisions such as the minimum working wage, but people in farming are earning a negative income. Initiatives from Westminster often mean nothing to those people, whether in Swansea, Betws y Coed or Ceredigion.
I am sorry that I was provoked by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), who is a friend, but this is the only Parliament that Wales has—we have an Assembly—and we are not allowed to use one of the beautiful languages of Wales, as it has the status of a foreign language in this place. He should not have rubbed that in.
I have a good news story to tell. We are overwhelmed with the trauma of bad news. We feel that we need counselling after listening to the speeches from Opposition Members and the tidal wave of negativity and misery. A remarkable change is taking place in the Celtic nations of Europe. It has passed almost unnoticed, but it is a positive and important change. My hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) referred to the Brythonic group of nations. The two groups of Celtic nations—the Gadhelic nations including the Manx, the Scottish and the Irish, and the Brythonic nations of Wales, Cornwall and Brittany—are separated by thousands of miles, but are coming together for the first time in 2,000 years. That has never happened before.
The Celtic languages and identity have, in the past, been a source of pain, poverty, division and anger against our neighbours—in Britain, it was England; and for the Bretons it was the French nation. That is now changing. In the past, the Celtic language and culture were seen as second rate. On St. David's day, a lady in my constituency, who is my age, 66, told me that when she was at school people were taught and conditioned to believe that Welsh, being Welsh and thinking about Welsh and Welsh literature were second class. We have our slave names: Jones, William and Thomas. The Cornish hung on to their names, such as Pemberthy and Trethown. The reason that the most common name in Wales is Jones, which uses a letter that is not used in the Welsh language, is because the English could not pronounce the Welsh names and called everyone John, William and Thomas. Our young people are now rightly throwing away those names and using their two first names. They take pride in having a Celtic name.
It is marvellous that the two most promising politicians in Wales at the moment are women, Delyth Evans and Eluned Morgan, who are fluent in Welsh and other languages. They are products not of the Welsh Gaeltacht in north Wales or of Gwynedd, but of Splott and of Ely in Cardiff, which are entirely English-speaking areas.
What is happening in Brittany? When I was there in the early 1970s, I spoke to an elderly man who told me that, in his lifetime, the sabot, which is like the Welsh not, was hung around people's necks, and if they spoke a word in Breton they had to take it off and pass it on to the next person. He said, "We were the petits délateurs: we were the little sneaks. That is what they made of us, the young Bretons." The language was on the point of extinction; only the elderly spoke it.
In one village, just one child was learning Breton. Nowadays it is a different story. Five thousand young Bretons are receiving their education entirely in the Breton language. There is a brand-new radio station—probably set up by the hon. Member for Lichfield, who has set up radio stations in many parts of the world. It broadcasts entirely in Breton, and is run by young people specialising in bagpipe and flute music.
Moreover, a television station has been set up for hard-headed business reasons, not to function as a cultural ghetto. Silvio Berlusconi and Rupert Murdoch have put their money into it. It broadcasts six hours of Breton every day, and is putting all the Celtic programmes together, including programmes from Wales. It is broadcasting "Braveheart" in Breton. The whole thing is aimed not just at the 3 million people living in the Breton area, but at the 8 million people throughout France who feel that they have a Breton identity.
Links are being forged between Scotland and Ireland. The magnificent, beautiful building of St. Columbia on the Isle of Skye was designed to reconnect the two branches of Gadhelic in those two countries—what a way to bring together the two communities in Northern Ireland. It is part of the tradition and heritage of those two communities, Scottish Gaelic—pronounced "Gallic"—and Irish Gaelic.
In Ireland itself, we see economic growth and a growth in self-confidence. It was De Valera who sent scholars to the Isle of Man in the 1950s to re-teach them their own inheritance. In Cornwall, there is more recognition of the Cornish identity than ever before. We should remember what was happening there in the 14th and 15th centuries—Cornwall had its own Parliament for 300 years; 10 per cent. of Cornish people voted for Mebyon Kernyw in the European elections.
We note what is happening with pride. Yesterday someone said, "Give us back our country." Some of us say that we want our country back. We want our own Parliament, ac i siarad yn ein iaith ein hunain, and not to be mocked.
I thought of making a speech in Chaucerian English, although I shall not do so on this occasion. Such a speech would be understood by no one, but presumably it would be in order. It is an outrage that tonight we shall again refuse to pass a motion allowing Welsh to be spoken in the House. It is a continuing insult to our heritage. I should be very surprised to learn that there is a Hansard reporter present who can understand the simple words of Welsh that are used here, and that is another disgrace that should be put right My earlier remarks will no doubt appear as "Interruption" in Hansard. That is a great shame, but I certainly will not translate that, or anything I say in other languages, for Hansard reporters.
A great community in the Celtic areas of Britain is under threat. It was under threat for years, and the threat is now returning. We have a real problem with people who do not speak the language. Many people arrive full of good will, with a sense of the importance of our culture and of learning the language, and for the first time the tide is turning. There has been a continuing story of decline, but we are now cherishing these languages, and the links between the countries concerned are strong.
I hope that Brittany does not go the same way as Corsica and Ireland and descend into violence. There have been signs that that will happen. Brittany has a political party—there is a wonderful serendipity about this—called Partie d'une Organisation pour une Bretagne Libre, or POBL. "Pobl" is the Welsh, Breton and Irish word for "people". All through this, we see those links—An Gof in Cornish is also the word for 'smithy" in Welsh, in Breton and in Irish Gaelic.
The strands that kept us together—there was one community 3,000 years ago—are being rediscovered. Those links are building. We shall see the positive development of the Celtic nations forming a council of the islands, a Celtic council, for identity. It will be rich and will mean that our children will regain our nations. The Irish used to talk about Sinn Fein—ourselves alone. Now we as Celtic nations can talk about Sinn el Célle—ourselves together.
May I begin by talking about the crisis in agriculture? Although there are no foot and mouth cases in my constituency at the moment, 280 farms in my constituency are badly affected, as are the abattoir and market at St. Asaph. My heart goes out to my farmers, as does my hand. I will work with them closely to do what I can as a constituency Member to help them in their plight.
I am pleased that agrimoney has been provided by the Government and that they reacted rapidly. As soon as the crisis was announced, they took steps to stop the movement of animals throughout the country. As a result, the number of cases of foot and mouth remains at 70 and not 700. I am pleased, too, that the farming unions and, dare I say it, the Opposition halve co-operated. They have not been oppositional during the crisis but quite constructive, which makes a change.
What have the Government achieved for young people in my constituency in the past three and a half or four years? For the first time ever, we have a college in the constituency: Rhyl college. That offers a ladder of opportunity—the ladder of education—to young people. I am pleased that the college will be expanded from 1,800 part-time places to 5,500 part-time places over the next five years. Indeed, there are to be outposts in Prestatyn and Denbigh. That has occurred under a Labour Government.
Young people in my constituency have had the new deal. Under the previous Government young people were alienated, hounded and marginalised. Under Labour, they have been included and are at the centre of our policies. I am proud that we have introduced a windfall tax on the utilities to pay for the new deal to get young people back to the centre of society.
I ask my hon. Friends to consider what would happen to those colleges and to the new deal in my constituency if the Conservative Opposition were to get in. Where would the £24 million worth of cuts fall in my constituency? Would they fall on the college and on the new deal?
In 1985, 5,000 pensioners froze to death at home, not from coughs, colds or pneumonia, but from hypothermia. The advice to pensioners from the Minister at the time, Edwina Currie, was to buy some extra woollen clothes at second-hand shops and sit in the dark at home to avoid getting cold. Let us compare and contrast that with what we have done on the issue of cold weather. We have given pensioners £200 a year, bang in the middle of winter, so that they have security and peace of mind, knowing that they can turn their gas and electric fires on and keep warm. The winter fuel allowance benefits 16,000 pensioners in my constituency.
Six thousand pensioners in my constituency are benefiting from free television licences. There are also free bus passes. Next year, there will be a free bus service in the constituency. The Conservatives propose dental and eye test charges. We have abolished those. The Conservatives introduced VAT on fuel at 8 per cent. and wanted to raise it to 17.5 per cent. We stopped them and the Labour Government have reduced VAT on fuel to 5 per cent.—the lowest in the whole of Europe.
One matter that has not been emphasised in our debate so far—I have been in the Chamber for almost four hours today—is how much the poorest pensioners will benefit from our changes. In 1997, they were on £68 per week, whereas, in April 2001, they will be on £92 per week. The minimum income guarantee is excellent news for the 3,000 pensioners in my constituency who will benefit from it.
Conservative Members' tax-cutting policies would make necessary £24 million of cuts in my constituency. Where would those cuts fall? Would the winter fuel allowance be safe? Would the minimum income guarantee be safe? Would free bus services be safe? Or would Conservative Members increase value added tax, as they have proposed? My constituents would like answers to those questions.
When he was the Secretary of State for Social Security, the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) tried to demonise young lone parents. He reminded us in his conference speech that he had a little list. We should compare and contrast his attitude to young lone mothers—which was the attitude of the previous Government—with ours.
We have a new deal for young lone mothers which has also been financed by the windfall tax. Conservative Members were prepared to let young mothers rot on the dole, but our working families tax credit has made work pay for those young women. Not only are they no longer on the dole—which costs each one of us—but they are back in work and paying taxes. We are therefore benefiting doubly from the tax credit. That makes sense to me, to other Labour Members and to the public. We have also increased maternity pay for young mothers.
Let us compare and contrast our action on child benefit with that of the previous, Conservative Government. They froze child benefit. We have not only unfrozen it, but increased it from £10.50 to £15 per week. Will that increase be safe if Conservative Members are returned to power? Will the children's tax credit be safe if the Conservatives are returned to office?
Child poverty increased threefold under the previous Government. In the past four years, Labour has taken 1.2 million children out of poverty, and we are well on track to achieve our goal of ending child poverty within 20 years. I think that we should do that within five years. If the Chancellor would like my advice on what he should announce on Wednesday, which I doubt, that would be it.
Let us also compare and contrast the previous, Conservative Government's action in my area with that of our Labour Government. In 1993, the Conservatives ended my area's assisted area status and the limited European help that we were receiving. In contrast, Labour has delivered objective 1. My county now will receive a slice of the £3 billion worth of European and United Kingdom aid going to 15 counties in Wales.
The St. Asaph business park in my constituency was built by the Conservatives, at a cost of £11.5 million. It was supposed to create 2,000 jobs, but it was empty for seven years and created only 100 jobs. Since Labour has been in power, the number of jobs at the park has increased to 1,100. We are delivering.
In 1993, unemployment in my constituency was between 4,000 and 5,000; it is now 1,200. Under the Conservatives, we had job losses at Shotton steelworks and at the Point of Ayr colliery. Under Labour, we have had job gains at BAE Systems, WTS (Holdings) Ltd. and the TRB car plant. In the Vale of Clwyd, we have had a 20 per cent. increase in our small and medium-sized enterprise base. I believe that all that would be threatened if the Conservatives ever got back into power.
I want to use the few minutes available to me in this debate to be a spokesperson for the farming industry in my constituency. In an intervention on the Minister, I mentioned a short Welsh phrase, which I hope the Hansard reporters will include in the Official Report, and I shall translate it for them. It is, "Heb waith, dim iaith", which basically means, "Without work, there is no language." In my area of Wales, the rural economy and fanning are vital to work and to the language of west Wales.
I spent two hours with the National Farmers Union in my constituency on Friday night. Farmers clearly say that they are grateful, on several counts, for what the Government have done for them. They are grateful to the Government for the agrimonetary compensation that they are providing. We hear much rhetoric from Conservative Members about agrimonetary compensation, but we must not forget—the farmers have not—that, when in government and when such money was available for our farmers in 1996 and 1997, they did not claim it. Farmers have no reason to believe that they would do so now.
Farmers are particularly grateful to the Government because they know that £129 million of the £157 million that they will receive in the latest round of agrimonetary compensation will come from the British taxpayer, because of the way in which those now on the Opposition Benches negotiated the Maastricht treaty. They are grateful to the Government for the swift action that they have taken, in partnership with the Welsh Assembly, to halt movements in the countryside to try to stem the spread of foot and mouth—an awful disease.
Farmers are also grateful to the Government for introducing the scheme for licensed animal movements today. I congratulate Pembrokeshire county council on its work. I know from a conversation with the council's environmental health department that it issued its first licence within two hours of those arrangements being implemented. They are also grateful to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for telling them that they can go ahead and graze cattle on set-aside land and for the fact that MAFF will fight their corner if any questions are asked about that in Europe.
I want to raise one or two small but specific points that are pertinent to my constituents. I hope that, if the Under-Secretary cannot deal with them now, he will at least discuss them with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The first point relates to ports. Already during this outbreak, foot and mouth has been identified at several sites on the United Kingdom mainland and in Northern Ireland. Farmers have considerable concerns about vehicles moving from Ireland to the United Kingdom. Vehicles leaving ports such as Rosslare are currently disinfected by the Irish Ministry of Agriculture and Food, at its expense. However, port operators have discretion over whether to disinfect vehicles that enter the United Kingdom from Ireland. Tim Johns—a member of Pembroke NFU—told me that he went to Fishguard yesterday, and 10 lorries came in direct from Irish abattoirs. Farmers are anxious that MAFF should take on bond that important matter, perhaps making the disinfection of vehicles mandatory, rather than discretionary, at the expense of the port authorities.
Secondly, the over-30-months scheme was mentioned in last week's debate I want to make a special plea for Pembrokeshire's farmers, who take a responsible attitude to maturing their cattle. They mature them on grass; they keep them for as long as they can and as near as possible to the 30-month limit. So many farmers are concerned that those cattle will go over the 30-month limit because of the restrictions on movement, and they will receive only the 30-month compensation, not the full market price.
We have heard today about direct costs and consequential losses. Farmers who have animals with the disease or that are considered to be dangerous contacts are compensated at full market value, but there is no compensation for consequential loss. I want to make the case that such losses are not consequential; they constitute different types of direct loss brought about, yet again, by the Conservative party's mismanagement of the BSE crisis. Those farmers stand to make a direct loss, just as though those animals had caught the disease. I ask the Minister to consider the issue in those terms.
Another problem is involved in the crisis. Farmers have already told us that prices have dropped, by 10p a kilo for beef and 20p for lamb, under the licence scheme. That is perhaps understandable for lamb, given the proportion of Welsh lamb that is exported, and exports have stopped, but there is no excuse for a drop in the price of beef, especially as we read in the newspapers that beef and other meat prices are set to double in the supermarkets. If we are not careful, someone will profit at the expense of our farmers. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will consider what the Government can do about that.
Journey times are another problem. Farmers have expressed concern because they understand—it has not been confirmed—than under the new licence arrangements the maximum journey times for getting animals to slaughter is four and a half hours. The journeys must include a detour around any infected area, which is creating massive problems in Pembrokeshire and in Cornwall and other areas of the west country. Will my hon. Friend clarify the arrangements for journey times, so that our farmers know what the position is?
Stray animals and escaping sheep are a major problem. I spoke to Pembrokeshire county council this morning and it expressed its concern. Several incidents have occurred and it costs the council £300 or £400 each time. The stray animals may be perfectly healthy, but if they cannot be identified, they have to be destroyed. That is a real problem, and I wonder whether there is anything that we can do to assist our local authorities.
Tack animals have already been mentioned. One farmer in my constituency has 150 cattle that are due to calve. They are currently on land where there are no milking facilities, which creates tremendous animal welfare problems. In another case, 400 sheep are on 8 acres that are separated from the main holding. Again, there will be major animal welfare problems if the issue is not addressed. As we progress, is there any possibility of allowing limited movements within a certain radius or within counties in unaffected areas?
Future policy on animal movements is another issue that has been raised. The National Farmers Union suggested that it would be sensible to set a 28-day limit during which animals could not be moved after they have been brought on to a farm. They would be kept there without being moved again, and any disease would manifest itself in that period. At the meeting, one farmer pointed out that he had bought sheep that had been on 11 different holdings in the previous two months. He did not know that until he had got them back to his farm.
There is an urgent need for MAFF to get the available payments to farmers as soon as possible. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has assured us that he will try to do that, but we have had that assurance before. Can we make absolutely certain that there will be no delay in getting the payments to our farmers? That is vital for them. They appreciate what the Government are doing, but I want an assurance, on behalf of Pembrokeshire farmers, that the payments will be made and that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary—in conjunction with the Assembly and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture—will do everything possible to help west Wales farmers in this difficult time.
I intend to keep my remarks brief to allow hon. Friends to speak. It is a pity that I have to do so, because many of us look forward to this debate so that we can speak about important matters that relate to our constituents.
I wish to pay several tributes. I would like to be associated with the remarks that have been made about Lord Cledwyn. Many of us, especially the newer Members, are indebted to him for the help that he gave us when we came to the House.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales for his speech and for all that he has done in the past year to improve the quality of life for the people of Wales and my constituents.
I also pay a special tribute to the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), for his unique contribution to the re-election of many Labour Members. I have never heard such an appalling speech in all my life. It showed us that the Tories have not a hope in hell of winning the next election and that he is unlikely to be the Secretary of State for Wales—at least not in my lifetime.
I was appalled not so much by the hon. Gentleman's snide remarks, although they were bad, or his half-baked facts relating to steel jobs and crime, but by the sheer irrelevance to the everyday lives of the people of Wales of 95 per cent. of what he said. He prattled on about English nationalism, the devolution settlement, the euro and all the rest of it, whereas the majority of people in our country are concerned about the issues that matter to them on a day-to-day basis.
Our Government's track record has been good; a great deal has been achieved. As the hon. Gentleman is not here, may I pass a message on to him through you, Madam Deputy Speaker? I can tell him, "It's the economy, stupid." In the past couple of years in my constituency and throughout Wales, we have achieved the lowest unemployment rate in 25 years, the lowest inflation rate in 30 years and the lowest long-term business rates in 35 years. We have one of the most stable economic environments since the second world war. As a result of our economic policies, our capacity to create wealth is growing dramatically. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned the substantial growth in incomes, which has—rightly—exceeded growth in other areas. We have achieved much, which has had an effect on my constituents.
Let me give a quick anecdote. Yesterday, on one of my Sunday morning walks through my constituency, I bumped into a constituent in Gibbonstown in north-east Barry whom I had not seen for 18 months. When I last called on him, he was at home, struggling, did not have a job and was trying to cope with bringing up a family. Yesterday, he said, "Mr. Smith, I've got a job. It doesn't pay fantastic, but its reasonable. I've managed to save enough and I'm going to be able to move on and buy my house. My family, at last, are looking forward to some security."
We have made a difference to people in the real world. The Vale of Glamorgan housing needs survey showed that, prior to the 1997 election, the average gross income per household, including all non-housing benefits, was what many hon. Members would pay for one meal. My constituents had to support a family on that. The minimum wage has had a dramatic impact.
We have made huge strides, but there is still much to do. Although we are slowly but surely narrowing the gap between wealth creation in Wales and elsewhere, especially London and the south-east, it still exists. An essential condition for closing that gap is to have an internationally renowned airport in Wales to serve our business community. I am not alone in that view. South Wales businesses were recently asked for their opinion on the most important business infrastructure project. They wanted a dual carriageway to the airport so that they could get to their business destinations and help the Welsh economy grow. Any economy in Europe, north America or south-east Asia could not be successfully regenerated without a viable international airport. Our airport is good. It is modern and has a large capacity, but it will not be the airport that we want if we do not deliver that road.
There is an additional reason to deliver on that. My right hon. Friend might have seen the Welsh Development Agency's statement in which it announced that it was conducting a feasibility study with the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, which is based at RAF St. Athan, on the location of 2,000 highly skilled jobs at Cardiff international airport. I was furious about that because there are 3,000 jobs at the agency. However, I am delighted to say that the chairman of the WDA, Sir David Rowe-Beddoe, has assured me that most of the jobs will move to Cardiff. Some will remain at RAF St. Athan, but not a single person will be made redundant as a result of the move. I have been seeking that assurance for months.
As a result of the feasibility study, 3,000 aero engineers might be located at Cardiff airport, in addition to the airport business and the British Airways maintenance centre. It might be necessary to change the way in which RAF St. Athan workers get back and forth to work and goods and services are transported to the airport. My point is simple: at the moment, they have to use the A4050, which is wholly inadequate because some parts of it provide only single-lane access to the airport. I plead, as I have done before, for my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister to reconsider that issue. The consultation period on aviation policy in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is almost over. I know that the Welsh Assembly has considered the matter. We must get our act together if we are serious about regenerating the Welsh economy to the extent that it can catch up with the rest of the country.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me at this late hour. I share the frustrations of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). I wish that we had some of the practices of the European Parliament, so that we knew when we were to be called and had more opportunity to make our points.
I am glad that we are having this St. David's day debate, which is a good opportunity to express our views about Wales on behalf of our constituents. This week, we also celebrate international women's day, and in the short time that I have I want to concentrate on the issues that especially affect the lives of women in Wales and bring them to the attention of the House.
This week marks the end of the consultation on the Department of Trade and Industry Green Paper on parents and work, which considers options for making it easier to combine work and parenthood. One of the Government's key aims is to deal with the dilemma faced by families in which both parents need to work and by lone parents who need to work but who have no one to look after their children.
I had a consultation meeting at Llanishen in my constituency at which I tried to find out what people, particularly women, felt about the issue. One of the Government's hallmarks is that we are going out of our way to consider the issues that affect many people's daily lives. The mothers, grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers at the school gates in Whitchurch, Llanishen and Llandaff North were very pleased that they were being asked what they thought. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) said that some seats would not continue to be held by Labour Members, but the people to whom I spoke gave a tremendously warm response to my questions. The key point is that the Government are tackling difficult issues and trying to help parents cope. They are trying to achieve a better balance between improved provision for maternity, paternity and parental leave and the demands on employers.
It is interesting that the Equal Opportunities Commission in Wales reported that employers in Wales were much more sympathetic to such provision than their counterparts in England. The commission received a good response from employers about issues that have often been regarded as burdens on them.
The clear message from my meeting in Cardiff, North was that maternity leave should be extended beyond 18 weeks and that the flat rate of maternity benefit should rise and be extended. It was generally felt that unpaid maternity leave is only for the well-off middle classes and that most women could not take it. All surveys show that most women return to work before they want to. Another clear message was that periods of leave should be combined with the need for breast feeding and that employers should make every effort to accommodate breast-feeding mothers if they have to return to work before that time is up. We have, of course, failed to address that issue in the House, although I hope that we will do so soon.
My constituents' views have been echoed by the Women's National Commission, the Fawcett Society and many other bodies. I urge my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in this week's Budget to extend maternity leave and increase maternity pay. I hope that some of the rumours that I have heard turn out to be right because they certainly reflect my constituents' feelings.
My constituents also want paid parental leave. The Government are considering that in their consultation document, but they think that it may be too great a financial burden. If parental leave is not paid, it will not be taken up, especially not by men. It is important that men have an opportunity to be closely involved with their children at an early age. I welcome the Prime Minister's announcement about paternity leave, but all the European examples show that men in particular do not take up parental leave unless it is paid.
Parents in Wales generally share the views held throughout Britain on the need for reform, but my constituents also believe that such help should be extended to all carers—for example, those who care for elderly people. I think that more women look after elderly people than care for children. My constituents also think that more help is needed for parents of disabled children. I warmly welcome the appointment of the Children's Commissioner for Wales and the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I hope that the commissioner will take on board the needs of disabled children in Wales and try to get them a fairer deal.
Last week, a group of mothers from my constituency came to see me; all have disabled children, most of whom suffer from autism. They were full of praise for the school that their children amend—the Hollies school—but told me about the problems arising from the long, six-week holiday, when they have to cope with children who need a great deal of attention, whom they love dearly, but who are difficult to cope with for long periods. The women are fund raising to run a play scheme in the special school that their children attend so that they have somewhere to go in the summer holidays.
The women face all the problems of trying to cope with children who have special difficulties, but have to fund raise to set up a play scheme themselves. Their children do not fit in with the local authority schemes, because their special needs make integration extremely difficult. Their mothers, who are struggling to raise funds, told me about the day-to-day problems of looking after the children whom they love so much and for whom they do so much. It strikes me that we have to have the sort of society in Wales that offers help to the struggling parents of children who have such needs; we must be there for them. Such people should not have to struggle against the system.
Since I became a Member of Parliament four years ago, parents have brought many children to my surgeries. The children have special needs and their parents always seem to be engaged in a fight against the system, trying to get their child into one school or another, or to get a statement. Everything seems to be a fight. My test of the new Wales that we want to create is that, when people have a problem, we help; they do not have to fight, because we try to make things easy for them and try to make things better.
I have spoken about the needs and aspirations of some of my constituents in respect of maternity and paternity provision, parental leave and children with special needs. I think that we are making great progress in some of those areas. The previous Government never recognised the need to combine work and parenthood nor examined the important issues that face people every day of their lives, whereas the current Government are concerned about community and supporting each other. It is vital that we recognise that issues that are sometimes not regarded as major political issues none the less have a huge effect on people every day and make their lives bearable or otherwise.
Constituents who bring those issues to my attention do so against a backdrop of a huge reduction in unemployment in Cardiff, North. There was never high unemployment in my constituency, but it has decreased by 40 per cent. and youth unemployment has decreased by 70 per cent. We have gained many jobs: Cardiff Gate business park is now one of the most flourishing business parks in Wales. We have suffered the loss of manufacturing jobs—we lost Aeroquip and Alloyed Wheels last year—but more jobs are coming in than are going out. Given the relative prosperity in my constituency, it is important now to try to get to grips with everyday issues that make a fundamental difference to people's lives. The Labour Government have made huge strides, but we have a long way to go.
It has been a welcome debate, even if it is a couple of days late for St. David's day. I have witnessed what I expected, which was a rehearsal of spin by Labour Members. At times, it verged on fantasy when set against reality. That is understandable when we consider that a general election is probably a month or so away. Many Labour Members will be losing their seats, so they may wish to make their valedictories today.
I picked up on the fantasy that it is almost as though we have had a Conservative Government for the past four years. There are some in old Labour who think that we have a Conservative Government, but in reality we have had a Labour Government for nearly four years. It is reality also that it is the Government of Labour Members who have been responsible for the deterioration of the national health service in Wales. It is their Labour Government who are failing to deliver on education in Wales. It is their Labour Government who have been presiding over the greatest fall in Welsh farming incomes in living memory. It is their Labour Government who have sat powerless as thousands of jobs have been lost in Wales in recent months. It is their Labour Government who insulted pensioners with a measly 75p increase in pensions last year. It is their Labour Government who increased the tax bill for the average family by £640 a year.
I shall deal with some of the contributions of Labour Members, but they cannot escape the clear fact that Labour runs Wales. I remind them that it is Labour that is in power in the National Assembly for Wales, propped up by its Liberal Democrat toadies. Labour is dominant in local government in Wales, and it is in power at Westminster.
Let us consider some of the speeches by Labour Members. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael)—the spirit of Cardiff—had a good warning for the nationalists. However, before he claims too much pride in country, let us remind ourselves that he is the only member of the National Assembly to have resigned his seat to return to Westminster.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) delivered a moving speech—I think he admitted that it was his valediction. We wish him well in his retirement. I suspect that his departure will be marked by the demise of the Liberal Democrats in mid-Wales. We look forward to welcoming Felix Aubel as the new Conservative Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, following in the footsteps in recent years of the late Tom Hooson and Jonathan Evans as Tory Members for that seat.
Where is the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik)? I use "colleague" advisedly because he is seen increasingly as a Government supporter. I know that Labour has—
My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) is in his constituency. I believe that there has been an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Church Stoke. I had to be absent from the Chamber on Thursday because I had two outbreaks of the disease in Painscastle and Velindre. It is a serious matter.
That is certainly a serious matter. There was a suspected outbreak on the borders of my constituency over the weekend. However, I stayed away from farms in my constituency and dealt with the outbreak on the telephone, which I thought was the safest way of doing so. I have had telephone conversations with the National Farmers Union every day during the outbreak, and we have also conversed by e-mail and other means that do not lead to the spread of this ghastly disease.
Getting back to the performance of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, it is noticeable that the Labour party has not selected a candidate for that seat—[HON. MEMBERS: "We have."] Well, that is most interesting news. I have raised that matter on several occasions, most recently in the Welsh Grand Committee. Neither the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire nor his Labour colleagues mentioned that a candidate had been selected. Perhaps Labour Members can name their candidate.
Of course I know who the Conservative candidate is. I have a piece of paper with his name on, but I do not need to refer to it as I know that his name is Brendan Murphy. I shall come to him in a minute.
I am intrigued, because if the Labour party has selected a candidate, he has not made much noise, has not made himself known and does not appear on the Welsh Labour party website. For most people in Montgomeryshire, he does not exist; they were led to believe that the current hon. Member for Montgomeryshire would be the Labour candidate and they would be denied a Liberal Democrat candidate.
Enough of that; I shall deal with other contributions. The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) made a good plea for the greater need for wealth creation in Wales, while dealing with other problems in his constituency and elsewhere in the country. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) dealt at length with a matter that he has raised in the House on several occasions—the miners' compensation scheme, which, he feels, should be dealt with quickly. He dealt at length with Corus but went on, I am afraid, to areas of fantasy, suggesting that there should be different corporation tax rates in different parts of Wales. That is probably an accountant's dream, but it is a Treasury nightmare.
The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) claimed that everything was perfect in Wales under this Government and that any problems must have been caused by the previous Government. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) made his regular plea for a bank holiday on St. David's day. We all support his views and have sympathy with the farming community in his constituency and other constituencies, which are suffering as a result of the foot and mouth outbreak. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) delivered a worthy speech on animal welfare, but I am not quite sure where it fitted into a debate on the Government's record in Wales.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) talked about the Welsh language and the minimum wage. Let me make it clear that we regard the Welsh language and the English language as having equal merit in Wales. Unlike some members of Plaid Cymru, we do not regard English as a foreign language. We shall make that case on many occasions.
The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) delivered a cultural tour de force, if he will forgive that foreign language phrase. The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Mr. Ruane) spent 10 minutes on a fantasy trip in his constituency under a new Conservative Government, speculating on what would happen. Not only did he get it hopelessly wrong, but he forgot to say that life would be much brighter when Brendan Murphy, whom I mentioned earlier, was the new Member for Vale of Clwyd.
The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) made an impassioned plea for her farmers, particularly as a result of the problems of foot and mouth. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) gave us some political knockabout, which tempted me to remind him that the 12.5 per cent. Swing recorded last Thursday in a local government by-election in Cowbridge would be sufficient to place Susie Inkin in the House of Commons. I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) for a worthy speech, as always, on equal opportunities, but as usual I suspect that her desires will not be shared by the Government.
I shall deal with some of the issues on which the Labour Government will be judged at the general election. The latest figures show the employment rate for the three months to November 2000 at 69.2 per cent., down from 69.6 per cent. over the same period in 1999. The unemployment rate was 6.5 per cent., compared with 7.4 per cent. a year earlier. Unemployment has been falling in Wales for almost a decade, but the rate of job creation and the rate at which unemployment is falling have both slowed under Labour. Unemployment in Wales is still higher than the UK average.
The recent job losses announced by Corns at Llanwern, Ebbw Vale, Shotton and Bryngwyn; by Dairy Crest at Lampeter, Marshfield and Carmarthen; and by Valeo in Gorseinon, all point to a structural problem to which the Government have not yet faced up.
The Government were elected on the slogan, "Education, education, education." The first of their five early pledges in the 1997 manifesto was to
cut class sizes for five, six and seven year olds to 30 or under, by phasing out the assisted places scheme.
The success of the Government's policy has proved, at best, patchy across Wales.
The percentage of under-fives receiving full-time nursery school education has remained at 1.1 per cent. since 1997. The percentage in part-time nursery classes has increased, but only from 25.8 per cent. to 27.7 per cent.—hardly a realisation of the Government's vision for nursery education.
I am conscious of the time, so I am afraid that I will not give way.
The average class size in maintained primary schools has decreased from 26.4 to 25.2 pupils, and pupil-teacher ratios have fallen slightly in primary schools, by 1.1 per cent. However, the effects of cutting class sizes in primary schools can be seen in the statistics for secondary schools, where class sizes have risen in Wales from 20.6 in 1997–98 to 21 in 1999–2000. The pupil-teacher ratio has also risen by 0.2 per cent. That was one of Labour's key pledges before the last election. The Government have failed to deliver on that pledge.
Labour's greatest failure in Wales is its waiting list pledge. It pledged in its manifesto to
cut waiting lists by treating an extra 100,000 patients as a first step by £100 million saved from NHS red tape.
The latest figures, dated 28 February, for NHS waiting lists in Wales show that the number of Welsh residents waiting for in-patient or day-case treatment has gone up from just over 67,000 in 1997 to 75,000 on 31 January. That represents an 11.5 per cent. increase. The number of patients waiting more than 18 months for in-patient treatment has gone up from 1,402 to 4,818. That is an increase of 243 per cent. However, the worst figure of all
is the number of patients waiting more than six months for their first out-patient appointment—that has risen from 5,956 to 48,506, an increase of more than 700 per cent.
The Conservatives have a series of policies to make Wales prosper. We will review the workings of the National Assembly to ensure that it starts to deliver for the people of Wales, and ensure that Wales continues to have a strong voice at the Cabinet table. We will oppose the plans for a new building for the National Assembly and support agriculture by getting rid of unnecessary regulation. We will cut red tape and bureaucracy in the national health service and set our schools free. The next Conservative Government will deliver for the people of Wales.
We have had a positive debate, to which 13 contributions have been made by a range of right hon. and hon. Members. My hon. Friends the Members for Vale of Clwyd (Mr. Ruane) and for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith), my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey), my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan), my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), my hon. Friends the Members for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) and for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) have all contributed.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West said, this St. David's day debate has provided an opportunity to celebrate the Celtic culture and Wales. I wish only that the hon. Member for Lichfield, who said in an intervention that he had visited Wales recently, had told us more about that visit. I am sure that as well as celebrating St. David's day, we would then have celebrated the advent of a Tory Member of Parliament in Wales, so a description of the visit would have made an interesting contribution.
I thank hon. Members for mentioning Cledwyn Hughes. I know that his death was felt strongly by Labour Members, but I appreciate the comments made by hon. Members from all parties in support of Cledwyn, his achievements and his family. Furthermore, I echo the tributes paid by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy to Ian Spratling, who died at the weekend. I was with Ian last Wednesday at the Phoenix centre in Townhill, Swansea. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister opened the centre on Friday. I understand that that was the day of Ian's death, which occurred shortly after the presentation. I met Ian only once, but I was impressed with his work and I echo the comments that have been made.
I welcomed the speech by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, who said that he was retiring at the general election. I hate to disappoint him, but I remind him that that could be as far as 15 months away. I hope that we will have the opportunity for further Wales day debates in due course, but in case we do not have such an opportunity, I pay tribute to him now for his work in the House. In addition, I pay tribute to any other right hon. or hon. Members who are retiring. I refer especially to Labour Members, several of whom are retiring at the general election.
They are doing so voluntarily.
I remind the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) that as recently as Thursday last week, an opinion poll conducted in Wales showed that Labour had 52 per cent. of support. The Tories had 22 per cent., the nationalists 14 per cent. and the Liberals 10 per cent. I hate to inform the hon. Gentleman that that means that at least 34 Labour Members will be elected at the next general election. I was disappointed by his contribution, which contained no vision and no apology, but merely disappointment. There was nothing about another term for a Conservative Government. All that he said was that many Labour Members and Welsh Members in general would be second class Members of Parliament. Of course, he does not represent a Welsh constituency, and there would be only second class Members of Parliament under a Conservative Government.
My hon. Friend is correct; there will be no Tory Members in Wales. However, I suspect that that will have nothing to do with opinion polls, but with, for example, the 2000 spending review and the outstanding settlement for Wales. My hon. Friends have mentioned that, and it is important that I refer to it in a review of the year. An increase in expenditure in Wales from £7 billion to £10 billion by 2003–04 represents a real increase for public services. Many hon. Friends have mentioned that important investment in, for example, health and education.
The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) and the hon. Member for Ribble Valley have complained about waiting lists, education spending and a range of other issues. It is important to ask them where Conservative Members would make cuts if they formed a Government in future. It is no use saying that there are great difficulties without committing expenditure, as the Government are doing, to resolving them. There will be a genuine choice in the election, whenever it happens, between public investment in our public services and reductions in such investment.
Several other key issues were mentioned. For example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli and my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgend, for Vale of Glamorgan and for Vale of Clwyd referred to unemployment, which has decreased in the 40 constituencies in Wales, thanks to the manufacturing base, the new deal, low inflation and stability.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth said, recorded crime in Wales decreased by more than 10 per cent. in the 12 months ending in September 2000. In that period, it fell by nearly 5 per cent. in Dyfed-Powys, 7.2 per cent. in Gwent, and 16.9 per cent. in south Wales. Crime has risen slightly in north Wales, but between May 1997 and September 2000 there were an extra 146 officers on the beat in Wales. That is a genuine investment.
Plaid Cymru Members mentioned Corus, among other matters. I appreciate that they, like Labour Members, have strong feelings about that, and many points have been made about manufacturing. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said on many occasions, a range of difficulties exist, but I ask hon. Members and people outside: who do we trust to handle those problems in future? Would we trust a Government of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) and the hon. Member for Ribble Valley or that of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor? There is still time for Corus to reconsider its decision. I hope that, in due course, and after pressure from my right hon. Friend, it will do that.
Let us consider the minimum wage. Labour Members welcome today's announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry of an increase to £4.10. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend and the hon. Member for Lichfield mentioned the minimum wage. Let us be clear in our St. David's day debate about the reason for the increase to £4.10. My hon. Friends and I voted for it whereas the majority of other hon. Members did not.
As my hon. Friends have mentioned, more than 60,000 people in Wales benefit from the working families tax credit. Pensioners are benefiting from the winter fuel allowance, which my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd mentioned, and we are helping the poorest pensioners in our community.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy welcomed the actions of the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), on miners' compensation. A total of £29 million has been paid—we are aware of the issues that affect compensation recovery, which my hon. Friend and other colleagues are considering.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire and others made important points about foot and mouth disease. The hon. Member for Ceredigion again made a thoughtful contribution about farming and rural affairs. Foot and mouth disease has led to a devastating series of incidents, but I hope that my hon. Friends the Members for Vale of Clwyd, for Cynon Valley and for Preseli Pembrokeshire and the hon. Member for Ceredigion will welcome the strong action that the Government have taken to stop livestock movements until at least 16 March to help to contain and eradicate the disease. I hope that hon. Members will also welcome the new scheme to license the movement of animals to abattoirs or to holding centres, and the Government's commitment to provide the full resources of the state veterinary service—some 1,300 strong—to support farmers during this crisis.
I shall certainly look into the point raised by hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire. As she mentioned, more than £150 million worth of agrimonetary compensation has been made available to the beef, sheep and dairy sectors, in addition to the £18 million worth of compulsory agrimonetary compensation that has been made available to support the industry at this difficult time.
Hon. Members will welcome the fact that, to date, some 12 approved red meat abattoirs in Wales have been granted approval to slaughter under the Foot and Mouth Disease (Declaratory Control) (England and Wales) Order of this week, and they are now available to help with animals that need to be slaughtered under licensed control. They range from operations in north Wales—in Corwen, Amlwch, Llanrwst, Machynlleth, Caernarfon and Wrexham—through Powys in mid-Wales to Swansea, Llanelli, Lampeter, and Tregaron, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Ceredigion.
I shall certainly look into that. I hope that all hon. Members will accept that the Government are taking strong initiatives that are occasionally difficult, and that our purpose is to ensure that we control the spread of foot and mouth disease and give financial support to those who are most affected.
The Government have taken a number of farming initiatives, such as the rural development plan, in conjunction with the National Assembly, the "Farming for the Future" consultation document that the National Assembly has produced, and—to take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Ceredigion—the agrifood partnership that the Assembly has undertaken that will look at action plans for the lamb, beef, dairy and organic sectors. In addition, there is the hill livestock compensatory allowance reform consultation exercise. The Government are, therefore, providing a tremendous amount of support.
We have been at great pains to point out on a number of occasions that the provisions that the Government have introduced, such as the working families tax credit, the minimum wage, child benefit and the children's tax credit are all available to support people in rural areas. That includes rural areas such as Montgomeryshire, where Paul Davies will fight the forthcoming election as the Labour candidate, and my own area, in which we have a proud record on which to work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North mentioned the success of this Government. By the time we hold the next Welsh day debate, whether that is before or after the election, Wales will have faced a choice. That choice is between a Government committed to further investment in people and services and a Conservative party led by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks that is committed to £16 billion worth of cuts. That is £24 million worth of cuts in each constituency, from Vale of Clwyd to Vale of Glamorgan: cuts in public services, policing, education and the health service.
Wales will also have faced a choice between a positive role in Europe and five years of isolation, and a choice between hon. Members who have a full role to play in this House and part-time Members who would not be full Members of the House under a Conservative Government.
The choice is between extending the new deal in a caring society with social justice, or scrapping it. Those are choices for Wales. There is also a choice between the Government's policies and the isolationism and lack of British Government investment that a nationalist party would bring to Wales. I say to this country and to Wales that the Government have a proud record, and my right hon. and hon. Friends have a strong, record to defend. They will defend it, and when they do, last Thursday's opinion polls will be proved correct.