Economic Affairs and Work and Pensions

Part of Speaker's Statement – in the House of Commons at 6:59 pm on 8th June 2010.

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Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Plaid Cymru, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr 6:59 pm, 8th June 2010

Diolch, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate Gavin Williamson on his excellent maiden speech, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to make mine in this debate. The way in which we respond to the longest-lasting recession since records began, and the support structures we put in place to deal with the human cost of the recession, will be the overriding domestic issues of this Parliament. I will close my contribution today by talking about an issue that is of huge importance to me-fuel poverty-but first I should like to use this opportunity to talk about my home constituency, which I now have the ultimate honour of representing as Member of Parliament.

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr consists of four valleys. Two rural valleys-the Teifi and Tywi to the north-are based on two majestic rivers that provide among the best salmon and sewin fishing in the British isles. Agriculture provides the backbone of the economy, and I am committed to fighting to preserve the traditional Welsh family farm and the traditional Welsh rural way of life.

There are also two post-industrial valleys-the Amman and Gwendraeth. As a son of the Amman valley, I can claim without any prejudice that the anthracite coalfield there contains the best coal in the world. The industrial half of my home communities-a producing economy-has suffered at the hands of a UK macro-economic policy obsessed with financial services and the negligence of manufacturing.

My constituency is probably most famous for its production of Welsh sporting icons. Some of the greats of Welsh rugby come from the area-Carwyn James and Barry John-and current Welsh and British Lions greats Dwayne Peel, Stephen Jones and Shane Williams are sons of Carmarthenshire. Carmarthen East and Dinefwr is also famous for its many castles, some of conquest, some of defiance. The three Deheubarth castles-Dryslwyn, Dinefwr and the imposing Carreg Cennen-are symbols of Welsh resistance, and of our determination as a people to preserve our identity and defend our freedom.

The north of my constituency was the home of a real life Robin Hood. Twm Sion Cati earned his fame by robbing from the rich to give to the poor. I consider myself a redistributive politician very much in the same vein. His arch-enemy was the sheriff of Carmarthen, a post I once held-although I must admit it was somewhat confusing for a Welsh nationalist such as me to hold that office. I look forward to campaigning for a tax on international currency transactions in honour of Twm.

Carmarthenshire is the home of great Welsh political radical minds. Llandybie born DJ Davies formed the Independent Labour party in Ammanford before the first world war, but then became a founding member of Plaid Cymru in the 1920s. He began working in the mines at the age of 14, served in the US navy, and was a formidable boxer. He lived in Denmark, and became convinced that the advancement of the Welsh working class could be secured only in a free Wales. Heavily influenced by the syndicalist movement, he wrote the masterpiece "The Economics of Welsh Self-Government" in 1931, which formed the basis of the decentralist socialist vision that guides my party to this very day. His vision of a mutual approach to economic development is one that I believe areas such as Carmarthenshire must embrace if we are to meet the challenges we face.

Jim Griffiths was a son of Betws. A Labour politician, he was the co-architect of the modern welfare state with Aneurin Bevan, and helped to deliver the first measure of Welsh devolution with the creation of a Minister for Wales. That political victory for the first time enshrined Wales as a political nation, and set in motion the chain of events that led to the creation of our own Government and legislature.

Carmarthenshire was also the constituency of the greatest Welshman of our time, Gwynfor Evans. His historic victory in 1966 marked the election of the first Plaid Cymru MP. Gwynfor's legacy has been to inspire generations to the cause of our country.

I should like to say a few words about the man I replace, Adam Price. After less than a decade in front-line politics, he has already established himself as one of the greatest figures in the history of the nationalist movement, and one of the most significant political figures of our time in Wales. When he returns from his studies in the USA, his destiny is clear: to serve our people in our own Parliament in Cardiff, and to lead our people to our political freedom.

Adam will be remembered for unearthing the Mittal scandal and for leading the opposition in this House to the invasion of Iraq. He was a local champion in fighting for compensation for miners suffering from terrible respiratory diseases and securing a pension compensation fund for steelworkers who had seen their life savings disappear. Wales can ill afford to lose politicians of the stature of Adam, and I hope he returns ready to continue his work on behalf of our people and our communities.

In the time that is left, I should like to talk briefly about an issue that is very close to my heart: fuel poverty. In a modern country, it is a disgrace that more than a quarter of all Welsh households live in fuel poverty. It is one of the greatest failures of government that people in Wales and throughout the UK must continue to make daily choices between heating and eating. In the last year alone, average heating bills have increased by 33%, leaving people on fixed incomes terribly exposed, and energy prices in Wales are higher than anywhere else in the UK.

We need action at international, UK, Welsh and local government level if we are serious about eradicating the blight of fuel poverty from our communities. First, international oil prices must be stabilised to avoid price fluctuations. That could mean a long-term agreement between oil producer and consumer countries, as advocated by the French Government, and-arguably-the use of a more stable trading currency. The UK Government need to raise incomes and ensure that available benefits and tax credits are claimed by those who are entitled to them. That package should include the extension of winter fuel payments to all vulnerable groups. Secondly, energy-efficiency measures should be targeted primarily at the fuel-poor, and, thirdly, we need greater regulation of the energy market, and in particular a mandatory social tariff for the fuel-poor so that they are removed from a competitive market that simply does not work.

The Welsh Government must ensure that Wales gets its fair share of the UK Government's energy efficiency schemes and create a package of support and advice for people living in fuel poverty. They must also promote off-grid, decentralised local energy systems, backed up with smart metering, so that communities can develop their own solutions to the twin challenges of global warming and energy poverty. I would also like a statutory duty on Welsh local authorities, which could include the retrofitting of vulnerable homes with the latest air-to-heat technology.

I have little doubt that the social justice agenda and the growth of Welsh political democracy and sovereignty are intertwined. During my time here in this place, I look forward to working with those across the political divide who believe in building a modern, just and prosperous Wales. Diolch yn fawr.