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Valedictory Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:46 pm on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley 3:46 pm, 5th November 2019

I wanted to allow others to go first, but thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I was elected in the middle of a miners’ strike, in 1984, to the seat held at one time by Keir Hardie, the first leader of the Labour party. When he was the MP, it was called Merthyr and Aberdare, although people often leave out “Aberdare”. I am afraid it is quite likely that when the boundary commissioners get to work, my constituency will disappear altogether, but fortunately they have not got to work yet, and while there is still a Cynon Valley, I am very proud to have represented it from 1984 until today.

I am standing down at this election with a heavy heart, especially as there is so much that I would still like to do. I have a long shopping list, and I have not completed the shopping. I do hope that other people will carry on and shop on my behalf, because these are all issues for which I think we can all campaign.

One of the things that I am proud of is that when Tower colliery, in my constituency, was going to be shut by a previous Administration, I managed to sit down the pit for 27 hours. The Government of the day argued that the pit was uneconomic, but we kept it open for a further 10 years as a result of some of my efforts. The men who worked there, and the people in the community, were very pleased that that happened. I do not think that I have ever recovered after spending 27 hours down the pit.

When I was a journalist, before I became a politician, one of the things for which I campaigned was compensation for miners, and for those with pneumoconiosis in particular. I am very pleased that when Tony Blair came into government I was able to advance that cause far more; in fact, I reminded him every single week that miners’ compensation should be arranged much faster than it was, because miners were dying without getting the money. So I am very pleased we did that.

I was also concerned about coalfield regeneration, and one of the issues I am still concerned about is the reclamation of some land that was used for industrial purposes. The land in question covers 150 acres, and is a prime flatland at the bottom of a valley; there are not many valleys with so much flatland. On that site there was a Phurnacite plant that produced smokeless fuel, and when I was first elected it was one of the worst industrial polluters in the whole of Britain. We managed to get it shut down. Then there was a battle to get the toxic waste—tonnes and tonnes of it—taken away from the site and taken elsewhere. They wanted to bury it on site; I asked where else that was done and they said, “Nowhere,” and I said, “It’s not going to be done here.” So that toxic waste was taken away.

I am pleased that with the help of the present Secretary of State for Wales we are working on greening the site, because the people there have lived with the dirt and dust for all these years and they cannot use that land, even though there are two lakes there and wildlife is returning: there are swans and kingfishers, and there is foliage that was never there before. The people in that area really should be able to enjoy recreation on those lakes and on that land, instead of having to push themselves under a fence in order to get on to it. I am pleased that we are in the middle of working on that, and I would like to have seen that work completed.

I worked too on the north Wales child abuse cases, because children were abused in my constituency. One of my most harrowing memories is listening to the survivors of child abuse, some of whose lives never returned to normal. I hope all the child abuse cases are concluded fairly rapidly.

I feel strongly about improvements in the health service, because I think I am the only person still alive who was on the royal commission on the national health service, the only one there has ever been. I remember our chairman, Sir Alec Merrison, saying at the time that unlike other royal commissions, our report would not gather dust. It did gather dust and continues to gather dust, however, but some of its recommendations are so worthwhile that I commend them to the present Administration.

When I lost my husband seven years ago I had arguments with the health authority in Wales—it is a continuing argument—and I am grateful that David Cameron had the foresight, if I may say so, to ask me to run an inquiry into complaints in the NHS in England. I would like to have done the same thing in Wales, because I was very pleased to be able to do that, and pleased that all our recommendations were accepted. More cross-party work on such issues, which we all care about and all want to see improved, would be valuable.

I speak Welsh—rwy’n siarad Cymraeg. I took my oath in Welsh and English, and I hope that one day it will be possible for Welsh to be a language used as a matter of daily life in this place as well. In the European Parliament, of which I was previously a Member, we managed to get substantial sums of money to assist the Welsh language there. I was very pleased that when I first got there in 1979 Barbara Castle was our first leader. You learned a few tricks from Barbara Castle. The first was that you got on with the other nationalities, if you could. Barbara never did, actually. I remember the leader of the German Socialists turning round to her one day and saying, “Barbara, you’re not in your national Parliament now.” That did not stop her. I do not think she ever got round to the idea of being in the EU, but I was pleased and proud to be there. I learned a lot of things, including how to vote electronically, which, after yesterday’s experience is perhaps something that will be sold to other Members. It certainly speeds things up.

There are other reasons why I was pleased that I went there first, before I came here. I have to say that it was a cultural shock for me to come here, because I had not realised how delusional people here were. I will tell you why. It was because we gave the impression that we did everything better than everybody else, when in fact there were many examples of other countries doing things better than we did, and I was pleased to have had the opportunity of experiencing that.

I was sacked by two party leaders—[Interruption.] Not for incompetence! First, I was sacked by Neil Kinnock for voting against the defence estimates. Then I was sacked by Tony Blair for going to Iraq at a particular time, which is particularly ironic. I then became the special envoy on human rights to Iraq. I have to say that I do not have quite the same fond memories of the Whips Office as some colleagues on the other side.