Education and Health

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 7:08 pm on 2nd June 2010.

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Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health) 7:08 pm, 2nd June 2010

I congratulate the hon. Members for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) and for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on their maiden speeches, both of which promised much for the future. I well remember my own maiden speech. It was supposed to have been non-controversial, so I chose the entirely non-controversial subject of holiday homes in Wales!

In this new Parliament, Plaid Cymru and Scottish National party Members will be vigorous participants in the business of the House. I am glad to say that the new Green MP, Caroline Lucas, has joined us on this Bench, because she, too, has much to contribute. I would have been glad to hear contributions from our erstwhile colleagues, the former independent Members Dai Davies and Richard Taylor, both of whom worked very hard, and I pay tribute to their work while in the Chamber. Richard Taylor is a consultant physician, and I remember him saying in his maiden speech, "Since I joined the NHS, there have been 28 reorganisations. I rather liked the 19th." That is a cautionary word for the Government and their aim of reorganising the health service in England.

Much education and health legislation is not directly relevant to Wales. However, there is a great deal to be said about education and health in Wales, not least the First Minister's incomprehensible decision last week to sabotage Welsh medium education in Cardiff West. No doubt the Welsh electorate will make their view clear on that next spring-but I shall not stray into devolved matters in this speech. Health is largely a devolved matter, although some important matters are not. Early in my career here, I tackled the then Secretary of State for Health, Alan Milburn, over nurses' pay. His erroneous response was, "It is an abiding joy to me that I have no responsibility for things Welsh." He was actually wrong, and I hope that this Government and their Ministers are better informed and will show at least a modicum of better grace in dealing with all matters Welsh.

The question from Wales is, what is the significance of the Queen's Speech for education and health? The Academies Bill will apply to England only. I was interested to hear the Secretary of State refer repeatedly to "this country", whereas, of course, he should have referred to "England". He should be aware that there are other parts of the United Kingdom that will not go down the route of academies or any of the other measures for education in England that he has outlined. The education and children's Bill and the health Bill will have some provisions that apply to Wales, but it is not particularly clear which ones.

The main effect in Wales of the Queen's Speech will of course come from cuts. We know already that the Government are postponing looking at the Barnett formula, even though successive independent reports have shown clearly that Wales is underfunded. The last report, the Holtham report, showed that Wales is already underfunded to the tune of £400 million. Added to that are the cuts already announced for Wales as part of the first £6 billion tranche and the much bigger cuts that we are facing in the future. Clearly, public services in Wales are in great danger. That is even more pressing because the easy-or easier-efficiency savings available in some parts of England are not necessarily applicable in Wales. The Prime Minister mentioned this morning savings from development agencies, but that opportunity has gone in Wales. It is particularly galling, I am sorry to say, that we are facing these cuts, given that the Liberal Democrats campaigned in Wales very much on the prospectus of raising public spending. Now we have not only cuts but no changes to the Barnett formula, in the foreseeable future at least.

We also have cuts in the numbers of additional university places. Again, the number for Wales is unclear, although one might speculate that it might be 500. This is particularly difficult given that universities in Wales are clearly underfunded as well. A study of cross-border education by the Welsh Affairs Committee, of which I was a member in the last Parliament, showed that universities in Wales were underfunded to the tune of £60 million per annum, and that university research in Wales was underfunded to the tune of about £40 million. Both sums of money, of course, would go far in filling the funding gap. Successive Labour Secretaries of State claimed that the Barnett formula has served Wales well, but it does not apply to research moneys. If it did, we would get not 2% but 5.6% of research money, which would make a huge difference.

I will not take up much more of the Chamber's time, because many people are waiting to make their maiden speeches. I will add, however, that the One Wales Government-the red-green Government-in Cardiff are committed to social justice, sustainability and inclusivity, and firmly reject NHS privatisation and the market models in the health service. That might come as a surprise to some hon. Members who do not know the ins and outs of Welsh politics, but that is how it stands at the moment. That refers back to my earlier point about this country being the UK and not just England. The Welsh Assembly Government are also responsible for the Wales-wide practical curriculum, including a foundation, play-based phase for four to seven-year-olds. Were I in charge of taking lessons from Sweden, I would look at the universal child care available there, which I saw a couple of years ago on a visit with the all-party Sweden group, rather than at some of the other lessons that the Government are taking. We also have in Wales the Welsh baccalaureate and are developing 14-to-19 education in general. In this respect, I hope that Wales will be protected from the coalition's wilder enthusiasms in respect of health and education, and I genuinely regret that that choice is not open to people in England.