§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Robert G. Hughes.]
§ 4.8 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood)
I should like to clarify for the House following those points of order that I have no territorial demand for Wales today, just a good story to tell about how well Wales is doing. I want a more prosperous Wales. In the past 15 years great strides have been taken. Incomes have risen. Many new jobs have been created. Whole new industries have been established. Wales has gained a worldwide reputation for good work, few strikes, success in manufacturing and skill at services.
Long-term unemployment in Wales has fallen by 40 per cent. since 1986. Unemployment has fallen by 6,500 since 1993. That is more than 500 additional jobs a month every month. Wages have been rising faster than the United Kingdom average since 1990 because productivity is good and rising. I hope that, during the debate, Opposition Members will make some reference to the good news as well as to the other things that they wish to fasten on in their speeches.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
The right hon. Gentleman has taken a close interest in a success story in my constituency—the factory making an executive jet. I invite him to visit that factory because I am seriously concerned about the long-term future of the production of the Raytheon-Hawker executive jet in my constituency. A constant threat that appears to hang over the work force is that production facilities may be withdrawn from my constituency and located in America. Will the Minister and his colleagues in the Government take a keen interest in the matter and do all that they can to keep production facilities in Broughton in my constituency?
§ Mr. Redwood
I willingly give that assurance, as my interests are the same as the hon. Gentleman's. As he knows, I have been in touch with the management and asked the Welsh Office and the Welsh Development Agency to do everything in their power to assist the company, as I wish to see it continue to provide good jobs in his constituency.
None of us can rest content with one in 10 of the Welsh work force out of work and incomes still below the UK average, so the important task before us is to build on the enormous progress made in the past 15 years in attracting still more business and growing more enterprises at home.
My strategy rests on four firm foundations. The first is the strength that Wales draws from general United Kingdom economic policy. Low inflation, flexible labour markets, low interest rates, deregulation and low corporate taxes are all crucial to business success. The second is our policy of educating and training the work force of the future. Rising educational standards and more qualified people are helping recovery. As we debated last week in the Welsh Grand Committee, more must be, and will be, achieved.
The third foundation is ensuring a good supply of development land and facilities for industry and commerce. Our programme of land reclamation has cleared another 700 acres for use this year and much more is planned. The fourth is improving our access to markets through our transport and communications policies. Many 1088 companies are attracted by the excellence of Manchester airport, linked by the A55 and M56 to north Wales, and by Heathrow airport, linked by the M4 to south Wales. I also wish to see more progress with Cardiff airport and services there.
Companies are also impressed by the sophistication of our telecommunications and the convenience of the world's main business language. Five export missions in the past year have won jobs and contracts for Wales: three were led by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and two were led by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, all with great distinction. The business that they won is good business for Wales. I hope that Opposition Members will get behind business men who are trying to win business abroad and will not knock them and make their task more difficult.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
We certainly applaud any orders won overseas. On the example set by business men, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has asked the leaders of private industry, including those of the privatised monopolies, to moderate their emoluments, whereas the Prime Minister has said that it is nothing to do with him. On whose side is the Secretary of State?
§ Mr. Redwood
My two right hon. Friends do not disagree. It is for shareholders to decide, to discipline and to ensure that boards of directors do the right thing over pay. We all want people to be well paid and to earn it. Nobody minds good pay if it is performance linked, which is exactly what both my right hon. Friends have been saying in their own ways.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
Can the Secretary of State cite a single example of a privatised utility where the discipline to which he referred has been exercised by the shareholders?
§ Mr. Redwood
Discipline is exercised on behalf of shareholders in all companies. They decide which directors to put on the boards and are responsible for ensuring that there are proper remuneration committees or other systems to control those matters. I believe in shareholder democracy. If the hon. and learned Gentleman does not like what is going on in some of those companies, he should become a shareholder and go to those meetings and make his point in the right democratic context.
§ Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke)
The Secretary of State mentioned remuneration committees for the privatised utilities. Does he know of any NHS trust in Wales that has a proper remuneration committee looking at the management and executive costs of its employees?
§ Mr. Redwood
I said, committee or other arrangement. I have asked them all to ensure that they have proper arrangements for guaranteeing value and supervising the contracts. I would be happy to take up any case if the hon. Gentleman thinks that any of them are falling down in that respect.
I hope that during the debate we shall learn something —anything—about Labour's policy for Wales. In the past year, we have had a Trappist silence from Opposition Members about what they would want to -do. The Labour Front Bench has been an idea-free zone. Let us see, one more time, whether we can get some answers to the questions that we and the people of Wales have been asking about Labour's policy.
§ Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
One thing that Labour would do is offer part-time workers the same protection as full-time workers. Does the Secretary of State welcome the judgment in the House of Lords just two hours ago in the case between the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Department of Employment? The ruling was that the Department of Employment was acting illegally and that part-time workers must be given the same protection as full-time workers. I am glad that the Minister is now briefing the Secretary of State and I hope that the Secretary of State will welcome that important ruling this afternoon.
§ Mr. Redwood
Of course I needed briefing as I have not had a chance to study the judgment. However, my hon. Friend tells me that the practices referred to in the judgment were introduced by a Labour Administration, so perhaps the hon. Lady should get her facts straight before trying to make clever points in the Chamber.
Would Labour put any limit on the taxing powers of its proposed Welsh assembly? We do not know. Would Labour increase spending on education on training? We do not know. Would Labour increase spending on the disabled and care in the community above the large increases I have announced? We do not know.
Will Labour ever stand up and praise the many fine achievements of Welsh business men, sportsmen and salesmen? We do not know. Will Labour say sorry for undermining our businesses in places such as Malaysia when it should be supporting them? Again, we do not know. Would Labour rule out higher taxes? Of course it would not, because that is what it really believes in. We can and will have to work out for it what the Labour party stands for.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
I shall be more than happy to address those questions at the next general election. Perhaps I can turn the Secretary of State's mind back to the last general election and refer specifically to a manifesto commitment that his predecessor gave. The Conservatives' Welsh election manifesto said that the Secretary of State would establish a Welsh economic council, which wouldensure … a more united effort on the part of the Principality's major employers' and employees organisations.When does the Secretary of State intend to implement that manifesto commitment?
§ Mr. Redwood
I shall be implementing it shortly and I shall let the hon. Gentleman know when the arrangements are completed for the first meeting and the people invited to join it, as I wish to make progress in the way that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting.
The Labour party is out of touch; it is permanently out to lunch. Given the choice, it would spend more on extra layers of Government and bureaucracy, not less. Given the chance, it would tax more, not less. The Opposition are discredited by the few things that they say. At the time of the local government settlement, they told me that it meant a minimum of 15 per cent. council tax rises.
§ Mr. Redwood
I shall finish the point before I give way. Today we learn that the average so far is not 15 per cent., not 10 per cent. and not even 5 per cent. At the time of our last debate, they threatened that Labour local 1090 government would cut teachers, when my priority—as Labour's should be—is better education. Why do they not look at spending on public relations, corporate affairs and the army of advisers that they retain in county halls?
§ Mr. Anderson
Might not the Secretary of State reflect on one reason for caution in giving costed increases possibly three years from the next election? When my party gave an honest shadow Budget shortly before the last election, it was pilloried by the Conservative leading press. We may well have lost the election as a result of that shadow Budget, whereas the Conservatives, despite their election promises, have put up taxes substantially more than we suggested in our shadow Budget.
§ Mr. Redwood
I think that the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Labour party wishes to mislead the electorate, because it does not want to come clean about its plans. The truth is that the hon. Gentleman and the shadow Cabinet cannot get permission to announce the policies that he wants to announce. His hands are tied and he is gagged as well.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
Has the Secretary of State calculated how much more in taxes Welsh people will pay in the coming two years? Will he tell us the amount of the publicity budget of the Welsh Office?
§ Mr. Redwood
There has been extensive discussion about the impact of tax changes in the previous Budget. That is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I can tell Labour Members that, when they left power, income tax was 33p in the pound. Today it is 25p in the pound. I know what people in Wales would rather be paying.
It is no wonder, with them all out to lunch, that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) have decided to steal away for good. They sense another defeat and do not want to be around for the recriminations. It is no wonder that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), that great paragon of socialist virtues, that scourge of any Conservative who falls short of high standards, cannot face it today and has gone out to lunch—or has gone out to something in Belgravia. He can see that it is time to go upmarket if one is to get on in the modern Labour party. It is time for designer suits and public school accents. It is time to trade in the working class life for something more middle class. I am with my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) with his "back to Janice" campaign. For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that he goes back to Janice and I go back to my own home.
The Government attach great importance to improving public transport.
§ Mr. Redwood
I know that Opposition Members are not laughing, because that is close to the bone. They do not like it, but it is true. They got caught, and they know it.
The railway network is an underused asset. There is a need to attract customers. Better marketing and better services, comfort, reliability and frequency are all necessary. I use the trains as often as possible. I hope that more will do so. Our competition policy for the railways is 1091 designed to put passengers first and to woo more people on to the trains. The tracks will remain in public hands, as now, and franchising offers opportunities, not threats.
§ Mrs. Clwyd
I hope that the Secretary of State will take the debate a little more seriously than he has so far. Will he give some assurances on the future of the valleys lines, particularly under the unitary authorities? For example, as he knows, were it not for the intervention of Mid Glamorgan county council, some of those lines would not exist.
§ Mr. Redwood
Of course I want them to have a good future, but I can tell the hon. Lady that the best way for them to have that is to woo enough people on to the trains to use those excellent services. The Government are fully behind those lines. I am trying to outline to the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends the policy that we are putting into effect, which I think will make a difference. It will make the trains more attractive and give us more passengers on them.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will remind the hon. Lady that, since 1979, under the Conservative Government, more stations are open in the valleys.
§ Mr. Redwood
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his important point. Our franchising idea offers opportunities, not threats. It means that if a private company comes forward and can do a better job, it will be able to do so. If no one comes forward, BR will continue, as now. The services will be better and customers should be attracted in greater numbers.
A better complete service could be provided. For example, safe, convenient and secure car parking could attract more customers to stations—most people travel to the station by car in the first instance. There is scope for other facilities at stations, such as car servicing and better retail facilities for customers to make it a more attractive proposition.
I intend today to announce my plans for strategic roads in Wales to show how they will link all the main parts of Wales to the markets of the future. As I have travelled the length and breadth of Wales over the past nine months, I have made a point of visiting the sites of many road schemes to see for myself. I have decided that Wales needs three strong strategic east-west links. These are, or will be, the M4 in the south, the A465 heads of the valleys road and the A55 in the north. They will be dual carriageway standard, designed to carry large volumes of traffic safely at a good speed.
Following representations, I am bringing forward work on the A465. I hope that Opposition Members who wanted that will welcome the proposal. The Glynneath-Aberdulais contract is now under way, and I have asked officials to accelerate the dualling of the 25 miles between Abergavenny and Hirwaun. I shall be consulting the public on route options this year. Progress now depends on the speed of design work, consultation and statutory procedures. I see the A465 bringing prosperity to the northern valleys as surely as the M4 is doing in the south and the A55 in north Wales. The A55 on the mainland will be completed this year, and I attach importance to extending it across Anglesey as quickly as possible.
There is a need to improve capacity on the M4 in south-east Wales. The second Severn crossing is to open in 1092 1996. I have added a scheme to the programme to increase capacity by widening the section between Magor and Newport at about the same time. Congestion at Newport will be alleviated when the Brynglas tunnels/Malpas relief road opens next winter. In the longer term, additional capacity will be needed between the second Severn crossing and the west of Cardiff. I am considering responses to the consultation on the route options for the M4 relief motorway, and a planned widening of the M4 to three lanes around Cardiff is already in my programme.
I expect those roads to cater for the foreseeable growth in heavy lorry traffic and long-distance east-west car traffic for at least the next decade. There is no general need for increases in capacity on other routes. The A40 in mid-Wales and the A5 on the mainland of north Wales traverse beautiful scenery and go through pretty towns and villages. I do not see those roads as the primary routes for heavy long-distance traffic.
I have been persuaded by the environmental arguments in several cases. For that reason, I am deleting the A40 Crickhowell bypass and the A5 Bonwm bends schemes. I am deferring the Corwen and Bethesda bypasses and the A40 Pontargothi diversion. I shall be considering the Abergavenny western bypass in the light of the inspector's report and my policy on strategic routes.
§ Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
Talking of the A40, will the Secretary of State bear in mind the importance of relieving congestion in the Fishguard area, to provide better access to the port, the route 6 bypass and the southern bypass?
§ Mr. Redwood
I shall deal with the A40 links to the M4 from the extreme west a little later. I think that that is a different issue from the route of the A40 across mid-Wales. I wish to send a clear signal that the mainland A5 and the mid-Wales A40 are not destined to become major highways and that improvements to them will be made only where the safety case is compelling or there are special local needs.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans
I thank my right hon. Friend for his announcement about the Crickhowell bypass. I am sure that it reflects the substantial representations that he received from those in the locality and, more widely, from people in Wales who know and value the area well.
My right hon. Friend will know, however, that there are still considerable traffic problems in many of the towns and villages of mid-Wales. Will he give more impetus to some of the traffic-calming measures that I know that his Department has been considering to deal with many of the problems that arise in some of our more beautiful villages?
§ Mr. Redwood
Of course I shall consider that point. I shall also consider individual needs for bypasses, road improvements or alignment improvements when they are required for local traffic reasons. The signal that I wish to send at this stage, however, is that those are not the key strategic routes and they will not be taking the main heavy traffic flows across Wales.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
The Carmarthen eastern bypass has been on the programme for the past 10, 15 or even 20 years. Will the Secretary of State assure me that it will be completed and that the starting date will be April 1996?
I note from the map that the right hon. Gentleman kindly sent us today that there is a large void north of 1093 Cardiff, in the area of the routes to the Teifi valley and Ceredigion. This is not considered a strategic route. The Carmarthen eastern bypass, however, is seen locally as the first stage of improvement to links to the north.
§ Mr. Redwood
I shall come to that point, as there are important road schemes in the area. I shall be making a change of alignment in the Camarthen eastern bypass to avoid building a route through a sensitive environmental area, but I intend to continue with the scheme.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
The Secretary of State has given us all copies of a letter and a map, but has not included an explanation. I understand that the press and the rest of the media received such an explanation. I accept that the right hon. Gentleman is much better at colouring books than I am, but I cannot quite understand the map. Could he possibly provide us with an explanatory leaflet like that given to the media?
§ Mr. Redwood
I thought that it would be for the convenience of hon. Members if they saw what I was publishing today, which is the map—the broad strategic outlines. I am now trying to give a few more details to show where my thinking has reached. The remaining details of all the different parts of the programme will be published in a month or two's time when they are all completed. However, I wanted the House to have an early opportunity to debate the matter. I gave Opposition Members an early opportunity by sending the map in advance so that they would know that I was going to do so.
§ Mr. Rogers
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is purely a matter of information. I wonder, through you, whether the courtesy could be extended to us that was extended to the media. The media received an explanatory form with the map, giving details of what was taking place. There are simply coloured lines on our map.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
That is not a point of order for the Chair, but no doubt the point has been taken by the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Redwood
I do not think that I have done anything wrong, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have given Opposition Members the map. I am now trying to tell them what the map means, in the proper place and at the proper time. After that I shall go out and brief the press, and that, I think, Opposition Members would also expect me to do. I am sure, however, that the press will be listening carefully to the statement that I am making, because that is the way in which they will learn, as will Opposition Members if they are interested in roads affecting their constituencies. If they listen carefully, they will realise that I have taken on board many of the representations from Opposition Members as well as from Conservative Members.
I am also deferring the A494 Llanbedr bypass. I am not convinced of the present need for a new road through that area of outstanding natural beauty and I wish every. effort to be made to improve safety without constructing that full bypass. I have already deleted the Hardwick Hill, Chepstow and Lower Town, Fishguard schemes, which aroused considerable local opposition and are not needed as major strategic routes.
§ Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South-West)
I think that the right hon. Gentleman may have listened to the wrong 1094 people with regard to the objections to the A494. The people who are most concerned are those who live in Llanbedr village, who, I know, desperately need that route. Traffic-calming measures have been tried, to no avail. Everything has been tried at that point. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider that.
As to the A55, which is now a strategic route, there is a great danger of all the development occurring along the strip of the A55, avoiding areas such as Denbigh and Ruthin in the vale of Clwyd in the north of my constituency. Is it possible for us to have a strategic route off the A55 into that area?
Of course I want roads to link other areas to the main strategic highways and later I shall mention the ones that are in the trunk roads programme. Others are in the local authority road programme. I hope that we reach an agreement with the local authority about which roads are needed—those that do least environmental damage for most economic benefit, because that is the balance that we have to strike.
§ Mr. Barry Jones
Was the right hon. Gentleman going to refer to the £25 million scheme, the Aston hill road-widening development, about which I know that he has had recent representations? Does he propose to delay it or drop it?
§ Mr. Redwood
I have not reached a conclusion about that and I am open to more representations.
Work will continue on projects offering improved road safety or relief of towns and villages, where that can be done without severe environmental damage. I want improvements on roads in those areas and I am seeking more jobs and investment through better access to the major strategic highways. In south Wales, the A470 from Merthyr to the M4, the A4042 from Cwmbran to the M4 and the A449/A40, linking the M4 to the M50, are crucial. Thus, work is soon to start on the A470 improvement west of Merthyr, between Pentrebach and Cefn Coed. Construction has just started on the A4042 Llantarnam bypass, which will complete a fast dual carriageway link to the M4. I want good access to valleys communities from the A465 in the north and the M4 in the south—essential for new jobs.
In west Wales, my requirements are the A477 Pembroke dock to St. Clears and the A40 Fishguard to St. Clears to link Pembrokeshire to the M4. I attach importance to the A477 Sageston and Redberth bypass and I expect to publish a preferred route shortly. The A40 Whitland bypass is planned to start in 1994–95. South Gwynedd has also asked for better links to the A55. I intend to bring forward schemes on the A470, beginning with the route between Blaenau Ffestiniog and Betws-y-Coed, and the Llanrwst bypass, with further improvements to the A487 from Porthmadog to Caernarfon.
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
Although I am very grateful that the A470 is to be dealt with at last, I wish to highlight an issue of which the Secretary of State may already be aware. The very fact that the A55 is being extended to provide such a good road network means that it is vital that work on the A470 is undertaken. When is it likely that that work will be put in hand?
§ Mr. Redwood
I shall publish that detail in the full document but I have today given a statement of intent that 1095 the link from south Gwynedd is important. We now have to programme all those matters finally to ensure that they fit in with the people, the public inquiry and the money available.
§ Mr. Ainger
Will the Secretary of State please enlighten me? From reading the 1993 "Roads in Wales" supplement, I understood that the Sageston-Redberth bypass was due to start as the line had been agreed. The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the area between west Wales and St.Clears but announced nothing new; he merely restated what was already in the 1993 supplement. Am I correct in that assumption?
§ Mr. Redwood
I was trying to set out my priorities and my strategy. I said that the matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred were an important part of that strategy and I hope that, where they are important, we can proceed where it is technically feasible. I have been just as clear about the roads that will be slipping or are being cancelled where there is too much opposition to them, where the economic benefits do not fully justify the environmental damage that they could cause. [Interruption.] Does the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) wish to intervene?
§ Mr. Redwood
The hon. Gentleman is wrong to think that I have lost my place. I was merely being characteristically generous. in giving way.
In north-east Wales, my priorities are to ensure enough road capacity to maintain the high quality link to the motorway network. Improvements will be made to the A550 and A494 and I shall take into account representations. In mid-Wales, I shall be examining a revised A470 Builth Wells bypass and I shall maintain the A458 scheme from Welshpool which will improve access to the M54. I shall be setting out the full details of my forward programme, with the dates, when a revised version of "Roads in Wales" is published in the spring.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for offering to give way earlier; I wanted to hear what he was going to say about mid-Wales. He said nothing about Newtown. The Welshpool bypass and the Llanidloes bypass have been beneficial, despite some road safety concerns. It would be logical to have a bypass to relieve heavy traffic through Newtown. Has the right hon. Gentleman any announcement to make?
§ Mr. Redwood
I shall consider that point; I have no announcement to make about it today.
I shall be publishing the new version of "Roads in Wales" in the spring. The result of the changes that I am making is a programme much more sharply focused on economic needs and much less focused on developments in beautiful areas where the environmental damage could be bad.
My plans presume a continuing strong commitment to the trunk road programme. The plans can be paid for from the money available and, of course, each year I shall keep expenditure needs for the roads programme under review, ensuring that the money is available to carry out the 1096 priorities in the strategic network. The decisions will, of course, be announced at the time of the annual public expenditure survey.
There are important links that are not trunk roads. I expect to continue to offer transport grant support for major local authority improvements, such as the third Dee crossing, which bypasses local communities and improves access to the Deeside industrial park. I attach special importance to the development of Cardiff-Wales airport and look forward to receiving suitable proposals for improving road links to it.
My roads programme will also benefit tourism, which is one of Wales's major industries. Projections show that there will be a significant increase in the number of domestic and overseas visitors to Wales in the years ahead. The majority of them use road transport, whether public or private.
§ Mr. Rogers
The Secretary of State has mentioned local authority roads. Is he going to mention the Porth bypass or the lower Rhondda trunk bypass? When will they go in the programme? I accept that the bypasses in some of the areas are needed, but in those major areas of population the whole development of the valleys has been strangled because of lack of investment in roads.
§ Mr. Redwood
I have made clear my intentions for trunk roads directly under my control. I look forward to seeing the plans from local authorities at the correct time to see whether I can assist with the spending permissions and the money that they need to get on with the job.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
The Secretary of State referred to tourism. Incidentally, I welcome his announcement about the A487 which is very important to Dwyfor and Meirionnydd. He will be aware of the importance of section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969 and the grants that are available under it. Can he give me an assurance that section 4 grants will remain available in Wales, in view of what has happened already in England and the changes that are taking place in Scotland?
§ Mr. Redwood
We have no plans to change policy in that respect.
My aim for 1994–95 is to provide better quality public services in Wales, building on the big advances made in recent years. In health, I intend to spend more on patients, doctors and nurses and less on administration. I have made it the overriding priority to hit the patients charter targets. No one should wait longer than one month for urgent treatment. No one should wait more than two years for non-urgent treatment. No one should have to wait more than 18 months if they need a new hip or knee or a cataract removed. We are close to hitting those targets for the first time and I gave another £1 million to get the lists down last week. Every patient should be given a unique appointment time that means something. I look forward to announcing to the House as soon as possible that we have met all those targets and can go on from there.
I have placed controls on all additional recruitment of administrative and managerial staff, as I want more of the extra money that I am making available to go to medical teams. I have amalgamated the posts of head of the health policy unit and director of the NHS by appointing an experienced official from within to a single post. That will unite health policy and management responsibilities and 1097 avoid the cost of bringing in someone new from outside. I have asked each health authority to reduce its staff to reflect the change in duties with the coming of trusts, where more of the management will reside at the hospital and less, therefore, should reside in the centre.
I shall be issuing a consultation document on ways to reduce the number of health authorities from 17 to between three and eight. It should be relatively easy to merge each family health services authority and district health authority, and to amalgamate some geographically. If we press ahead I want genuine mergers—where staff from both will be treated equally—and not take-overs.
I have asked the health care professions to lay emphasis on clinical effectiveness, and to review procedures to ensure that they are working well. I am examining the Welsh Health Common Services Authority to find savings there and to adjust its role to the new world of trusts.
As more people and money are freed for medical care, so I expect to raise standards further. We should ask why patients in hospital are woken very early in the morning when more sleep might help them and why they have to wait so long for breakfast once woken up. We should ask whether the treatment could suit the patient rather more, because getting better depends on feeling well looked after. I want the system to be patient-driven and so, I am sure, do the patients. I want the highest possible standards of medical care, which we get in most of our hospitals, and I wish the medical profession every success in pioneering and developing new and better treatments and maintaining the very high standards that it achieves.
I have asked that all the empty houses owned by NHS Wales should be sold. That will raise over £2 million by 1 April this year for health care in Wales and more subsequently.
Welsh agriculture is flourishing. Total grants and subsidies in the next financial year will increase by 8.3 per cent. over this financial year, well ahead of inflation although not a figure that Opposition Members have ever given any credence to, with their complaints about individual parts of the package. Aggregate farming income, that is net income excluding labour costs and taking into account interest payments, is forecast to have risen by 80 per cent. in 1993 compared with 1992. I know that the base was low, but the increase is most impressive and welcome.
Low interest rates, higher subsidies and better livestock prices are all helping. Quality products at competitive prices will find market outlets, and I am pleased to announce that exports of Welsh lamb now represent over 50 per cent. of production. Farming is important to the rural fabric of Wales. The Government have recognised that through the common policies that we are pursuing in Europe and at home.
To protect more of the beauty of the Welsh hillsides and valleys, I intend to place more and more emphasis on urban and valleys renewal, tempting the bulk, or much, of our new housing, commerce and industry on to reclaimed land. I am keen on urban villages and have given the go-ahead for one at Cardiff bay to join the one in Ebbw Vale. Every house built on a plot of reclaimed land is one fewer planning application in an area of high landscape value.
I want those villages to be more than just mere housing estates. They can provide housing with a heart, villages 1098 with centres that create communities. The strategic development scheme offers councils and communities the chance to do something bigger, with more vision, than the old urban programme and special projects schemes allowed.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson
There will be a general welcome for what the Secretary of State said about making building on reclaimed land a priority. What encouragement, by way of fiscal incentive or otherwise, is he considering to ensure that that is done, apart from the planning mechanisms?
§ Mr. Redwood
There will be considerable encouragement through the large land reclamation programmes and I hope to agree stretching and ambitious targets with the Welsh Development Agency in the light of the substantial increase in grant and the receipts that it will be enjoying next year, because I want a big programme that clears more land and makes those sites available.
Next year I shall be looking, under the strategic development scheme, for one or two showcase schemes of several combined projects that will make a real impact on a whole area. The West Wales task force area and Deeside industrial development area are two of the larger beneficiaries this year. Valleys development also remains high on my list of priorities, and also development in south Gwynedd in the wake of the power station announcement.
The programme for the valleys is an exciting one. This year it will benefit from the re-signalling of the valley lines, new sports and leisure facilities for Rhondda and six major local strategies bringing jobs and a better environment to Amman and Gwendraeth, the upper Llynfi valley, Mid Rhondda, Merthyr, Tredegar and Cynon valley.
Wales will succeed in the next century only if our children do well at school in this. I am pleased to report to the House a sharp improvement in exam results over the past year, and I pay tribute again to the many teachers and students who have worked hard to achieve this.
As I reported to the Welsh Grand Committee last week, standards need to be raised much higher overall, especially in some schools where the results are well below what is required. I am expecting governors and head teachers in those schools to take action now. I do not want to have to use my powers under the Education Act 1993—I would far rather schools put their own house in order—but I shall use them if there is no action. The inspectors have made clear what needs to be done. [Interruption.] Instead of making silly comments from a sedentary position, Opposition Members should be behind me in that because they should want those children to do well and they should want those governors to take action before I have to move in. The inspectors have said what needs to be done. There is no time like the present to take action. Surely we do not want another year of poor performance from those schools.
The Government will provide the training places and college places needed to meet our ambitious targets.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)
Will the right hon. Gentleman's hopes for development and improvement in Welsh schooling, which we all share, be helped or hindered by the fact that Gwent county council has been forced this year, because of his spending limits, to cut expenditure on education by £2.6 million, including reductions in additional pupil spending? When we already have 32 pupils per class, on average, in our primary schools, does 1099 he think that the education of those young children will be assisted or retarded by the failure to invest properly in education?
§ Mr. Redwood
I want to see proper investment in their education. That is why I increased the grant to county councils—I did not cut it—and gave them the opportunity to increase it. They then told me that they would have to put their council taxes up by 15 per cent., but they are not coming out at anything like that. They are now, through the right hon. Gentleman, saying that they are making reductions, where they have extra money and extra permission which they should be using for that priority sector. There is nothing more important than dealing with the needs of our schoolchildren.
We have ambitious targets for our training places and our college places. In 1979, one in eight went to university. Three in 10 now do so. One in three is our aim by the end of the century. By 2000, we want one out of two to obtain two A-levels or the equivalent, where three out of 10 do so at the moment. Training and enterprise councils have been asked to meet the demand for all 16 and 17-year-olds to have a guaranteed place on the youth training programme if they need it. Later this year I shall be introducing an engineering apprenticeship scheme.
Investors and employers tell me that a well-trained work force is one of the most crucial factors that they look for when considering where to base their business. Wales is already well known worldwide for its skilled and flexible work force. We need to train more of our young people to high international standards to accommodate the growing army of businesses expanding and setting up here.
§ Mr. Kinnock
On the subject of high international standards of qualification—to which we would all aspire for the young people whom we represent—is the right hon. Gentleman aware that support for postgraduate education in Wales has been radically reduced over recent years, during which time the Conservative Government have been in power? There is now effectively little or no support available at the discretion of county councils for young people who seek supplementary qualifications after graduating. Does not the right hon. Gentleman believe that powers and finance should be restored to county councils so that young people with first degrees can get Master of Business Administration degrees or other secondary qualifications, to enhance their chances of gainful employment and their ability to compete with others in the world? They are now being severely disadvantaged despite their talents.
§ Mr. Redwood
Local authorities have considerable discretion in how they choose to spend their money, and the money increases year by year. It is interesting to note that when elections are due, councils can find more money to keep taxes down or to back special projects.
Quangos have been much in the news. The Labour party has been active in slating bodies that it set up and has been short-sighted in overlooking the good work that they do and the wide range of people—of all political persuasions and of none—who help them do it. Labour lives in a dream world, believing that we appoint people because they are Conservatives rather than for their talent. It chooses to overlook the fact that we appoint many who are not Conservatives: four Labour councillors on the Cardiff Bay body, a leading trade unionist on the Welsh Development Agency and a senior Plaid Cymru figure chairing the 1100 Welsh Language Board, to say nothing of the political researcher to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), who is on the Welsh Arts Council.
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
That point has now been made three times in the past few days from the Government Front and Back Benches, so will the Secretary of State accept it from me that my researcher, Councillor Jane Davidson, was in the first place elected to Cardiff city council and then nominated from the council to be a member of the Welsh Arts Council? Her appointment was initially vetoed by a Welsh Office Minister, in spite of the nomination by the Welsh Arts Council. Only when she was nominated a second time by that body was the political veto finally lifted.
§ Mr. Redwood
The hon. Gentleman seems to be confirming the fact that his political researcher is on the Welsh Arts Council, which was the point that I was trying to make. I can assure the House that I shall continue to appoint on the basis of suitability for the job. That is the correct criterion and I propose to stick to it.
I can also assure hon. Members that I, like the House, expect high standards of our public bodies and councils. Each body operates under a framework of law and rules. I shall set targets each year for what we expect, and debate progress when required in the House. Each body has a chief executive and an accounting officer responsible for ensuring compliance with the rules. The Public Accounts Committee is there to check up on his success.
I intend to control the number of such bodies and the numbers of people involved in them—I do not normally favour large boards. I shall, as I have already announced, seek reductions in the number of health authorities following the establishment of several new health trusts.
Last week in the Welsh Grand Committee we were treated to the third 15 from the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) embarrassed even the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) by slamming the Labour Government of the 1970s. How right he was. Last weekend, the hon. Member for Caerphilly showed that he had learnt from the new boy. He made news. He hit the headlines with a speech, which is pretty unusual. Even more remarkably, I found myself in agreement with what he was reported to have said. He slammed Labour for its "cult of arrogance" in Welsh local government. So now we have it from the highest Labour source in Wales that Labour local councillors do not always know best, that Labour is weak when it comes to internal party democracy, and it does not listen to the people.
Having made a speech in praise of harmony and sweetness, the hon. Member for Caerphilly tried to stop the hon. Members for Neath (Mr. Hain) and for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) attending the Parliament for Wales conference in Llandrindod this weekend, but I hear that they will disobey him.
§ Mr. Hanson
As a member of the third 15, as the Secretary of State so kindly puts it, I thank him for giving way. Will he accept it from me that, whatever the situation of the Labour Government of the 1970s, there was more opportunity to go to university in those days, and more 1101 opportunity for council housing and for employment, and that everything that he does reduces those opportunities? People like me would not be where we are today without the opportunities provided by the Labour Government.
§ Mr. Redwood
The hon. Gentleman doth protest too much, and wriggle too much, because he knows that my charge has gone home. Moreover, he has not been listening, because I have just told the House how many people are now going to university compared with the numbers in the 1970s when Labour was in charge and, on the hon. Gentleman's own admission, doing so badly.
So, we hear that Labour Members are not allowed to do what they wish with their weekends, but that the eloquence of the hon. Member for Caerphilly, aided by the wandering minstrel for Cardiff, West, has proved to be not up to the job. Handing the Welsh economy to those gentlemen would be like handing the car keys and a bottle of Welsh whisky to a teenage boy.
Well may the hon. Member for Caerphilly warn his troops, for he hears and sees the march of changing attitudes and changing votes in many parts of Wales where Labour used to hold unchallenged sway. Indeed, he himself should listen to the people of Wales. The majority do not want 16 as the age of consent or an assembly that would mean more taxes and more laws for Wales, and the majority do not take kindly to his stubborn refusal to come forward with an alternative budget for Wales to show what he could, or would like to, do. He is out of touch as well as out of power—and now he is out of sorts with his own party.
The Wales that we want is a successful outward-looking country, sure of its own history, language and culture and of the importance of the Union. It is a Wales that is world class in business, first class at rugby and top of the class in education. Wales is showing the way with jobs, better health care and higher educational standards. Doing it the Conservative way, we will win.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
First, I register my strong disappointment that the Secretary of State was not prepared to insist in Cabinet that our traditional Welsh day debate be held on 1 March. As we now have a Secretary of State who does not want Welsh to be an official language in Wales, and does not believe the red dragon to be a clear enough symbol for Wales in Europe, I suppose that I should not be surprised to find that we are having our St. David's day debate on 3 March.
The Secretary of State is clearly not a happy man, and his speech showed just how out of touch he is. He showed a distinct and uncharacteristic lack of courtesy when he made a cheap personal attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Perhaps you will confirm, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it is a matter of common courtesy in the House that if an hon. Member intends to make a preconceived personal attack on another Member, notice should be given. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he told my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover that he had designed in advance a personal attack on him?
§ Mr. Redwood
I did not. I thought that the hon. Gentleman would be here himself. Besides, he never extends that courtesy to my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Davies
That is clear. It is unacceptable for the Secretary of State to conduct himself in that way. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover does not need me to defend him, but it has to be said that while he has been a Member of the House he has never launched into an offensive or unjustified attack on the private life of any other hon. Member. My hon. Friend has never moralised about the private lives of other Members and it ill becomes a member of a Cabinet and a Government both now enmeshed in personal scandal and political corruption at the highest level to indulge in name calling of that nature.
For the first half hour of his speech, the Secretary of State talked about his roads programme. He then said that he would announce that roads programme later in the spring. It is a comment on his lack of command of his brief that he is unable to make a speech without packing it with information which he knows will be the subject of a statement in a month's time when, hopefully, we can debate it at length. I welcome his announcement of improvements, in particular, to the A465, the A470 and the A55, but will he confirm that his announcement disguises a cut of £10 million in other elements of the road programme? He shakes his head, but that was the basis of the briefings that he was giving the press all day.
Does the Secretary of State accept that the observation of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) commands the support of the Opposition? That road should form the major link between the industrial heartlands of south-east Wales and north-west Wales. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the announced cut in the roads programme will mean that roads in many of our towns and villages in Wales will be less safe, bypasses will not be built, roads and junctions will be in a worse condition and many unsafe bridges in the valleys communities will be deprived of much-needed investment?
§ Mr. Redwood
I have not announced a cut in the roads programme. As I said, I have not changed the figures announced in the Budget for Wales. Next year, I shall review the money available to ensure that it is up to the task of meeting all the priorities that I have set out. I have announced proposals on some big and expensive roads—and am bringing them forward. I also reject the hon. Gentleman's slurs about my lack of respect for the Welsh language and the red dragon. Of course I am proud of the dragon of Wales, and I use it on the promotional literature with which I am involved.
§ Mr. Davies
The Secretary of State's record on that matter speaks for itself. Expenditure on the roads programme will be substantially less than it was last year. I do not know how the Secretary of State can present that as anything other than a cut.
Nine months ago, the Secretary of State's first parliamentary duty was to remove from Welsh Members the right to help frame Welsh legislation. We could be generous and assume that he was merely doing the bidding of the Government's business managers. Subsequently, however, we have had ample evidence that the right hon. Gentleman is less sympathetic to Wales, less inclined to 1103 recognise our distinctive culture and values, and less willing to work with the grain of Welsh public opinion than any other holder of his office. Any one of his predecessors would regard that as a criticism.
I have no doubt that the present Secretary of State views the concerns of those of us who represent Welsh constituencies, not with understanding, nor even with hostility, but with indifference. After all, his political agenda is not focused on Wales, its people, its institutions or the prospects and aspirations of its people. His ambition is not for Wales; it is for the ideological leadership of the Tory party. The Secretary of State does not represent Wales in the Cabinet. He merely uses the place that Wales has given him in the Cabinet as a platform for the promotion of his right-wing views.
The Secretary of State's office brings together the major Departments of State—education with training and employment, environment with agriculture, and health with local government. It has enormous potential to harness political influence to achieve major political, economic, environmental and social gains. Given the challenges that we face in Wales in the last decade of this century, a Secretary of State who puts Wales first would seek economic advance for our country alongside the motor regions of Europe. He would ensure the development of a coherent policy for the sustainable use of our environment and natural resources. He would seek to develop social policy to reflect our co-operative and community values. Above all, he would seek to recast our political structures to allow the fuller expression of our national identity. He would seek to sweep away the quango system, with its attendant sleaze and corruption, to exert democratic control and scrutiny over the Welsh Office and to give those of us in Wales a greater opportunity to shape our destiny in the developing Europe of the regions.
Instead of grasping any of those opportunities, the present Secretary of State has been hesitant and accident prone, with the tedium of his time-worn politics relieved only by a series of spectacular political own goals. We know that he is not happy with the advice that he receives from his civil servants. He has been only too ready to pin the blame on them for some of his obvious failings. There must be a dream factory in the Welsh Office. There is a view that the Secretary of State's "initiatives" and his use of extravagant forms of self praise can somehow provide a substitute for policy.
Who advised the Secretary of State to take his single parents initiative? I am not suggesting for a moment that the Secretary of State is responsible for any of the single parents in Wales. It is a sad fact, however, that the only impact and lasting contribution to British political debate of the present incumbent has been to put into the public mind his obsession with the prospect of teenage mums obtaining council houses. It is now clear that his St. Mellons speech was the opening shot of the Conservative party's "back to basics" campaign. However, we should not intrude too far into private grief: that initiative did not endear him to the Prime Minister.
The Secretary of State then announced his health initiative. Presumably, he abrogates all responsibility for the past 14 years of Conservative health policy. That was certainly his message when he roundly condemned the bureaucracy and inefficiency created by the Government's health reforms. He was not flavour of the month with the Secretary of State for Health—the lady was definitely not amused.
1104 The Secretary of State tried a quango initiative. He made some cheap comments about the research assistant of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). Three weeks ago, I asked the Secretary of State why he does not make information available on the political affiliation of every person he appoints to a quango in Wales. Such information is collected on those appointed as magistrates. If that policy is suitable for them, why should not information be collected and published on those people who exercise trust and spend billions of pounds of public money? Instead of using selective and pejorative examples, why will the Secretary of State not provide all the facts so that we can make an appropriate judgment?
When the Secretary of State tried his quango initiative, he called the chaps together and told them that they must do better. Apparently, he still does not understand that democratic scrutiny is far more effective than private exhortation. In any event, that initiative collapsed with the fiasco of his appointment of a top Tory living as a tax exile in Monaco to head the Welsh Development Agency. If the Secretary of State is to be believed, he did not know that he was appointing a top Tory. He pleaded incompetence to defend himself against the charge of nepotism.
The Secretary of State's latest initiative has been on education standards. He and his policy were humiliated by my hon. Friends the Members for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) and for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) in the Welsh Grand Committee last week. It is small wonder that the Secretary of State is now shunned by his Cabinet colleagues for the embarrassment that he has caused them. There is a whispering campaign against him in the Tory party. There is an open campaign against him in the media, with The Times newspaper calling for his dismissal.
According to an opinion poll out tonight, under his stewardship the Tory party in Wales has collapsed to its lowest ever rating of 11 per cent. He is so reviled by the Prime Minister that he is semi-publicly traduced in the foulest language—"bastard" being one of the more printable epithets used to describe him. That sort of record takes some beating, even by the standards of the present Government.
My heart went out to the Secretary of State when I read in the Western Mail on 11 February that the Conservative party was to cancel its annual conference in Wales. The paper reported:The Tories are set to cancel this year's Welsh party conference to concentrate on minimising their losses in the Euro-elections. Embarrassed Tory party managers have admitted difficulties in trying to arrange this summer's Welsh party conference"—presumably the difficulty was that nobody wanted to go.The Conservatives expect bad news from the first and fear a thrashing in the second as voters take revenge for VAT on domestic fuel and higher income tax bills.How much would the Secretary of State miss the renewed opportunity for a further lusty rendering of "Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau?" The Welsh Labour group Christmas party would never be the same again. With that uncanny grasp of Welsh politics and the instinct that told him that Rhondda Conservative association was the proper platform for a major speech on education, he announced that, after all, there would be a Conservative conference in Wales in the current year. The next day the Western Mail duly reported:Redwood Wants To Rescue Conference.1105Welsh Secretary John Redwood has stepped in to save this year's Welsh Conservative conference which has been threatened with cancellation because of a clash with the Euro-elections in June.
§ Mr. Davies
In a moment. The newspaper continued:He wants a one-day rally after a one-day conference, possibly late in May, to form part of the election campaign for seats in the European Parliament on June 9th.He is obviously so isolated that neither his press department in the Welsh Office, nor Conservative party central office, nor what remains of the Conservative party in Wales had informed him of what was in the Western Mail two weeks earlier on 26 January, when it reported:Party In Election Write Off.The Tory party have written off Wales in this summer's local and European elections. Cash draft high command and Central Office have decided to limit support to the party in the Principality to a minimum because they have no hope of taking over any of the handful of towns where a third of the seats are up for election on May 5th and there is little chance of taking any of the five Euro seats in the principality from Labour on June 9th. No doubt the few Tories remaining in Wales will have a few words to say to him as they witness the terminal decline of their party, their failure to win a single European seat, their virtual disappearance from Welsh local Government and, on the basis of the present polls, the loss of every single parliamentary constituency at the next general election.
§ Mr. Richards
If the hon. Gentleman must insist on flaunting the smattering of Welsh that he has picked up, he should try to get it right. It is not "Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nadau": it mutates to "Nhadau"—there is an "h" in it. The hon. Gentleman should learn that before he flaunts it on the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Davies
I shall give way after I have dealt with the point that the hon. Gentleman raises. Of course I understand that the Welsh for "fathers" mutates after the personal pronoun, but the mutation in south Wales pronunciation is not pronounced as it is in north Wales, where the "h" is sounded.
§ Mr. Anderson
Following that mass meeting which the Secretary of State addressed in a public telephone box in the Rhondda, if the Conservative party is so strapped for cash—poor dabs—could it not have a whip round among the quangos?
§ Mr. Davies
I hesitate to engage in that debate about the personal predilections of Conservative Members of Parliament.
I return to the opinion poll to be broadcast on BBC Wales tonight. More than 1,500 people in Wales were asked their view of the present Secretary of State and whether he was doing a good job or a very good job. The massed ranks of Conservative party supporters in Wales could not even muster a figure of 1 per cent. of that poll who believed that the Secretary of State was doing an excellent job. He had an excellency rating of zero. 1106 However, for every one person who felt that the Secretary of State was doing a good job or a very good job, there were three who thought that he was doing a bad or a very bad job. Most striking of all, 70 per cent. of people polled believed that elected councillors and not Government-appointed officials should be in charge of public affairs. Given Wales's special record of sterling service provided in local government, I am not surprised that 70 per cent. of the people think that—
§ Mr. Davies
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my sentence, I will certainly give way. Of course, the hon. Gentleman has a great deal of experience of Welsh local government and I would be delighted to listen to him in a moment.
§ Mr. Davies
My right hon. Friend tempts me to comment on the extent to which the hon. Member for the Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) has mutated. However, it is a point that I would not wish to explore.
Seventy per cent. of people polled believed that elected councillors and not Government-appointed officials should be in charge of public affairs. That reflects the extent to which the Tory party in Wales is exclusively identified in the public mind with the quango system, which means corruption, fraud, nepotism and incompetence. That is the system that Tory greed has produced in Wales.
§ Mr. Sweeney
Is it symptomatic of the so-called excellence of the Labour councillors in Wales that the South Wales police force has been deprived of £5 million of its much-needed budget? Is that a reflection of the thinking that the hon. Gentleman supports?
§ Mr. Davies
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West suggests that I refer the hon. Gentleman to Hansard of 27 January, when the Secretary of State directly contradicted his statement. A fortnight or so ago, with nine other hon. Friends representing constituencies in the South Wales police area, I led a deputation to the Home Office Minister responsible to press the case for additional funding. Due to the way in which the Home Office and the Welsh Office cannot get their acts together, about £2.5 million of funds are being withheld by the Home Office. The police authority is underfunded because of the 1.75 per cent. cut imposed on the county authorities and as a result the South Wales police authority faces the prospect of closing about 60 police stations in the area. That means, for example, that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West, who has Ely in his constituency—I trust that the hon. Gentleman knows the difficulties of that area—will be one of the few Members of Parliament in the whole country without one police station in his constituency. In the heart of Cardiff, that trouble-torn area is to be deprived of a police station as a result of Government policy. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the level of policing, I wonder why he does not make representations to the Home Office as we have.
§ Mr. Kinnock
In order further to assist my hon. Friend—not that he needs any assistance in rebutting the challenge made by the hon. Member for Vale of 1107 Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) —I draw to his attention the fact that the Gwent police force, despite one of the best records of crime detection and prevention, is significantly under strength. On the testimony of the police themselves, that is not a consequence of the inadequacies of the local authority, but the result of the limitations imposed on police numbers by the Tory Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Davies
My right hon. Friend is correct. It is a further reflection on the present-day Conservative party that the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan, who demanded the courtesy of being allowed to intervene in my speech, does not have the courtesy to remain in his seat to listen to the continuation of the debate.
I was dealing with quangos. With that uncanny sixth sense and prescience that has come to characterise the Secretary of State, his response was not to clean up the quango system but to attack the democratic sector—local government. It is now clear how tenuous is his attachment to democracy. This year a Bill that will reorganise Welsh local government was presented to the House of Lords first and not to the Commons—another defeat in the Cabinet for the Welsh Secretary.
Shortly, that Bill will come before this House. Despite the virtually unanimous opposition of all 32 Opposition Members representing Wales and the overwhelming weight of local government opinion, the Secretary of State will try to force it through on a whipped vote of English Tory Members. That is bad enough, but this time the exercise will be especially cynical because the Whips will force English Members, representing counties such as Somerset and Hertfordshire, to vote for a reorganisation of Welsh local government when they have made it clear to their Whips that, such is their opposition to the principles of the reform, they will not be prepared to support similar measures for the areas for which they were elected and which they represent here. That is a travesty of our democratic system.
Another matter reflects poorly on the Secretary of State's commitment to democracy. When his predecessor set out to buy the votes of Plaid Cymru last year—I want to treat the three Plaid Cymru Members as delicately as I can because I know that they are feeling especially sensitive today—so as to ensure the Government's survival during the debates on the Maastricht treaty, a deal emerged which treated local government with contempt and attempted to subvert the democratic rights of 28 of the 38 Members of Parliament for Wales. The deal envisaged a forum, involving Members of this Parliament and Members of the European Parliament representing Wales and Welsh local government. It was conceived—perhaps I should not talk about conceptions when dealing with such matters—behind the backs and, as it subsequently emerged, against the wishes of an overwhelming majority across all the political parties in Wales. The deal was clearly constitutionally unworkable, unprincipled and inherently undemocratic, as we pointed out at the time.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Wales wrote to local government leaders in Wales asking them to get him off the hook. In that letter he acknowledges to the Council of Welsh Districts:I am therefore writing to you to ask you to consider whether you would wish to establish jointly with the Assembly of Welsh Counties such a mechanism.He was referring to the reporting-back mechanism for the Committee of the Regions.
1108 I shall ask the Secretary of State a direct question and I should be grateful for a direct answer. If the AWC and the CWD jointly propose an all-Wales council of local government to him as a report-back mechanism for the Committee of the Regions, will he accept the proposal? I will happily give way if the Secretary of State wants to answer.
§ Mr. Redwood
I set out my proposals, following consultations, and I should like an answer to those proposals. I cannot give an answer to questions about other proposals that I have not read. The offer that I made in my letter stands and I look forward to a positive reply.
§ Mr. Davies
The Secretary of State is getting into a habit of making excuses because he has not read his correspondence. Last time he had not read the CV of a top Tory living in tax exile. This time, he has not read the correspondence from the Council of Welsh Districts, which wrote to him on 16 February 1994 setting out its proposals. Has he received and read those proposals? Will he give us a direct answer? All my hon. Friends want to know, all the representatives of Welsh local government want to know, and I am sure that the leader and members of Plaid Cymru will want to know because their deal is at risk.
The proposals have been put to the Secretary of State, who has had a long time to reflect on them. They are jointly agreed by the Council of Welsh Districts and the Assembly of Welsh Counties. The basis for the support is not partisan or party political and they are overwhelmingly supported by Labour Members and by large sections of the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru. Considerable sections of the Conservative party also support the proposals.
I ask the Secretary of State once more: will he accept proposals if they are put to him jointly by local government in Wales? I want a direct answer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] This is an example of the contempt and arrogance the man shows for Welsh public affairs. Elected leaders of all the district councils and counties in Wales have seriously debated the matter for the past three months and have made carefully thought out —
§ Mr. Davies
Of course it was at my instigation, but my meetings with Welsh local government were open. They did not take place in the Whips Office behind the backs of the majority of Welsh Members. When I have a statement to make, I do so before the leaders of all tiers of local government in Wales —Labour leaders, independent leaders and the leaders of Plaid Cymru in Wales. There is only one Conservative-controlled district. They were all made fully aware of the discussions and the proposals have been circulated to every local authority in Wales.
The Secretary of State is treating Welsh local government with contempt by refusing to give a straight answer and by the way in which he is trying to subvert its democratic processes to deliver a shoddy deal done with members of Plaid Cymru.
§ Mr. Wigley
I think that we would all accept the need for an effective report-back mechanism because we all hope that the regional dimension of the European Community will benefit Wales. Does the hon. Gentleman therefore accept that the Committee of the Regions goes beyond being a committee of municipalities or of local government?
1109 The regional dimension in Wales includes the Welsh Office and, regrettably, at this point also the quangos. Therefore, to establish a proper report-back mechanism we must bear in mind functions such as agriculture, docks and railways. Those are the responsibility of the Welsh Office, which is answerable to this Parliament and not merely to local government. That is why the forum will have to include elected representatives of all the levels in Wales: Members of Parliament, Members of the European Parliament and representatives of the districts and counties. Then we shall have a representational body which can give the views of Wales on all those functions to our representatives on the Committee of the Regions.
§ Mr. Davies
I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you will accept that I mean no disrespect by turning my back to you when I deal with the matter that the leader of Plaid Cymru has mentioned. His arguments would be a little more convincing if he had been prepared to engage in open debate before he did a deal with the Conservative party. If there is merit in that case, it surely needs to be discussed by all 38 Members for Wales and not merely by four Plaid Cymru and six Conservative Members who expected to bounce the rest of us into an undemocratic deal which sells out the interests of Welsh local government. The hon. Gentleman has signally failed to deal with that.
§ Mr. Davies
I shall give way again in a moment as the matter is important, but first I must deal with two other important issues about which the hon. Gentleman is exercised.
I understand that there will be occasions when Members of Parliament, and certainly Members of the European Parliament, and Ministers at the Welsh Office, will want to discuss matters through the report-back mechanism. That is what I and my hon. Friends do regularly. We meet representatives of local government—for example, the Heads of the Valleys Standing Conference. We have that relationship and there is no reason why it should not exist on a voluntary basis.
However, the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) is seeking to turn Westminster Members of Parliament into exclusively Welsh Members. I and my hon. Friends are firmly committed to the fact that a directly elected Welsh assembly is required to meet the democratic deficit in Wales. For the life of me I do not understand why Plaid Cymru—the party which supposedly wants an independent Wales, a referendum on the monarchy and all the rest of it—is prepared to accept the second-best organisation nominated, which will exist with the patronage and at the whim of the Secretary of State for Wales. That has nothing to do with democracy and I want nothing to do with it.
§ Mr. Wigley
Of course we want to see an elected Welsh parliament. When we have an elected Welsh parliament, representatives elected by that parliament will go to the Committee of the Regions. I am glad to see some hon. Members nodding their heads, though some are shaking their heads. I should have thought that that stands to reason. In the interim while we have a Tory Government, what will be the reporting back mechanism? Is the hon. Gentleman not putting forward something short of an 1110 elected assembly? In other words, he is proposing a council for Wales. Is not his criticism of Plaid Cymru not on the substance of the forum but on the way in which it was brought about? If that is the basis of the criticism, it would be better for him to forget about the reason why the body was brought about and see how we can make it work for the well-being of Wales, rather than sulking and refusing to go on it.
§ Mr. Davies
I am certainly not sulking. I am trying to play a constructive role with all tiers of Welsh local government, representing all parties, to reach agreement. The hon. Gentleman must understand that, my objection is about the way the deal was done because it was dishonourable; it is not only about the way the deal was done, about the substance of the deal.
I will explain why the proposal is unacceptable. The House decided that it wished to defeat the Government on the matter. It decided that local government should decide the representatives who would go to the Committee of the Regions. I do not have the responsibility or the right—neither does the hon. Member for Caernarfon, nor the Secretary of State—somehow to set that to one side or subvert it by the practices into which they entered. The hon. Gentleman must understand that, because local government in Wales is charged with the responsibility of providing representatives to the Committee of the Regions, surely it is common sense that, first, they should be consulted and, secondly, they should be instrumental in constructing the reporting back mechanism—they should be the reporting back mechanism.
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Gentleman is getting a little impatient. He must let me reply to this point. If we talk about democracy, the independence of local government and the respect that we have for local government—I know that the hon. Member for Caernarfon shares my respect for that independence—we cannot turn round and say that we will ignore local government. I have written to every local authority—
§ Mr. Davies
With the greatest respect, the hon. Gentleman is heckling when I am trying to respond to the intervention of the hon. Member for Caernarfon. He should let me make this point.
Local government in Wales has its own independence. What I sought to do in my meetings with the Assembly of Welsh Counties and the Council of Welsh Districts was to construct a mechanism that was acceptable to them because I respect local government. Of course the Assembly of Welsh Counties has a Labour majority. Of course the Council of Welsh Districts has a Labour majority. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) should not smirk because he has influence in only one local authority in south Wales—Taff Ely—and it failed to support his proposals. That is a measure of the concern that exists in south Wales.
Out of this comes one clear message for Plaid Cymru Members: they should not do deals. with an untrustworthy Government, especially when such deals breach their principles and are based on nothing but party advantage. Having first been bought out, they have now been sold out.
§ Mr. Davies
This is the last intervention that I will take. I can never resist taking interventions from the hon. Gentleman because they are always so courteous and relevant.
§ Mr. Richards
If there were to be a Welsh parliament today, would it levy taxes in addition to those levied by Westminster?
§ Mr. Davies
If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Government would introduce legislation to establish a Welsh assembly or a Welsh parliament—[Interruption.] Standards in the Conservative party are falling daily. The hon. Gentleman asked me a question. I should be grateful if he would do me the courtesy of listening to my reply.
If I thought that the Conservative party was going to introduce legislation in the current Session to establish an assembly, a parliament or a senate in Wales, I would be happy to engage the hon. Gentleman in that debate. I do not think that it is a realistic proposition. However, I am confident that the issue of establishing an all-Wales tier of government will be central to the outcome of the next general election. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) has not exactly covered himself in glory in matters relating to local government. I suggest that he goes back either to his flat in Westminster or to Rutland. I can give the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) a guarantee that at the next election I shall be happy to advance the Labour party's proposals for an all-Wales tier of government. We shall then address all of the questions that he wishes to raise.
§ Mr. Davies
I shall conclude as I have given way to all hon. Members who have attempted to intervene.
During the 12 months since our last St. David's day debate, Wales has been badly served by the Secretary of State. Our economy has not recovered the jobs that we lost. We now have 150,000 fewer men in work than when the Government came to office. We are further down the regional pay scale. We are now at the bottom of the scale—we were near the top when the Government came to office. Investment in infrastructure has been cut, and is being cut as a result of the current programmes. From April this year, everyone in Wales will pay an extra £14 a year in tax, thanks to the Government's tax increases and their mismanagement of the economy.
§ Mr. Davies
I indicated that the intervention from the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West would be my last. However, I am sure that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) is desperate to put some further points on the record, so I will give way.
§ Mr. Dafis
This is a debate on Welsh affairs. So far, we have had an extended attack on the Secretary of State for Wales, with which I have a great deal of sympathy, and an attack on Plaid Cymru. I was wondering whether the hon. Gentleman would comment on the state of Wales arid his proposals for the development of Welsh political and economic life.
§ Mr. Davies
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to invite me to attack my own party. I can assure him that I have enough friends without having to launch an attack on my colleagues.
1112 Presiding over all of the cuts, all the unemployment, all the difficulties, all the crime and all the social break-up is a Secretary of State who is so out of touch that he is prepared to play fast and loose with our democratic processes. Undoubtedly, the Conservative party will pay a very heavy price when the electorate has an opportunity to comment on that record. The sooner that opportunity comes, the better.
§ Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)
I have never been so glad to hear a speech come to an end as I was when the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) finished. Someone such as myself, who was born and raised in south Wales, knows that corruption, nepotism, inefficiency, waste and sleaze have been the stock and trade of Labour-controlled local authorities. Indeed, they have become so commonplace that many people have become insensitive to it, accepting that being totally secure in power for most of the century has led to that sort of corrupted complacency.
It is therefore outrageous that Labour Members, especially the hon. Member for Caerphilly, should raise the subject of corruption anywhere, at any time and by anyone. The fact that they do so has encouraged some of us to take a fresh look at the fat cats of socialism.
A few days ago, the hon. Member for Caerphilly—as we have seen, a gentle and refined soul—told Labour councillors in Wales to improve their image, and to he more friendly and approachable. Indeed, he almost went as far as to say that they should model themselves on him. Imagine it. Somewhere in the shadows of Caerphilly castle, up in lights—"Ron's finishing school," with a slogan underneath saying, "Smile like a crocodile, sting like a bee."
I suspect that that was the hon. Gentleman's attempt to justify spending commitments which were made on 28 January by South Glamorgan county council. I have some details of those spending commitments by the council, which is, needless to say, Labour-controlled.
The council has committed £368,000 to public relations, including £50,000 for a new public relations director for the council. Gwent county council pulled off a similar stunt after the general election, and it gave the job to one John P. Smith, the defeated Labour candidate for Vale of Glamorgan. I am pleased to see that he is not here today, but that my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) is. We shall certainly watch the appointment of the South Glamorgan public relations director with some interest.
In addition, South Glamorgan county council has committed £313,000 for members' services—the mind boggles at what that money might be used for—and £180,000 for the chairman's entertainment budget. One gets more than tea and sticky buns for £180,000. Of course, today's Bolsheviks entertain their comrades rather more lavishly than before. They are champagne socialists using taxpayers' money, with the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) leading from the front.
I can see how the chairman of that county council could spend thousands at Christmas on advertisements in the Western Mail and the South Wales Echo, consisting mainly of large photographs of himself, wishing readers a merry Christmas and a happy new year. In addition, the county 1113 council has made a further commitment already to spend £772,000 on leisure, even though that is the responsibility of the district authority.
In aggregate, that is £1,633,000 down the pan. The council is spending as though there were no tomorrow. Of course, there will be no tomorrow for that authority, as it will thankfully be done away with in the proposed reform of local government.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson
Is there not a subtle difference between what the council is doing and what the quangos are doing? If the electorate in their wisdom decide that they disapprove, they can get rid of the council. The people of Wales can do nothing about the great quangocracy which is home for so many members and supporters of the hon. Member's party.
§ Mr. Richards
The hon. Gentleman, of all people, should know that quangos are accountable to Parliament. The point that I was making earlier, which the hon. Gentleman clearly missed, is that there is a tradition of corruption and sleaze in south Wales, because the Labour party has been in control of councils there for such a long time. As an hon. Member representing Swansea, the hon. Gentleman ought to know more about corruption and sleaze in local government than any other Opposition Member.
Those are the goings-on in the Labour party. It yells about underfunding whenever education, health or any other policy is discussed. How much more should we spend, the Government ask? The Opposition cannot say, or they will not say. They are the same people who waste public money on themselves instead of spending it on schools, roads and social services for the benefit of the people.
Labour councils always plead poverty. I will believe them only when the chairman exchanges his Jaguar for a Metro, and when he melts down his mayoral chain.
§ Mr. Hanson
The hon. Gentleman represents a seat in Clwyd, as I do. Will he come to the county with me tomorrow to meet the chief officers and chairmen of committees in Clwyd and explain to them why he has voted for cuts which have meant that children in my constituency do not have the books, resources and teachers they need? That is not poverty—that is fact.
§ Mr. Richards
I will talk to the chief officers of Clwyd county council when it starts to co-operate with the borough council in the transfer of information for local government reform, when the Clwyd education authority stops trying to undermine schools in Clwyd from going for grant-maintained status, and when the Opposition stop being childish in this place and co-operate with the Government so that we can all get away earlier to drive to north Wales in the morning.
I shall speak now about West Glamorgan county council. Anything that that council does not know about nepotism or fixing jobs in the teaching profession for Labour supporters is not worth knowing.
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)
Will the hon. Gentleman substantiate his claims? Does he have any evidence to put before the House that there is anybody 1114 currently holding a position as a teacher or college lecturer in West Glamorgan as a result of any corrupt practice? If not, will he withdraw that statement?
§ Mr. Richards
The hon. Gentleman is being astonishingly naive for someone who was in the education service and who worked in south Wales for many years. As the hon. Member representing Gower, he will know West Glamorgan well, and the whole history of West Glamorgan education authority is one of jobs for the boys.
§ Mr. Ron Davies
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is a serious matter, because many people outside the House have been subjected to a quite deliberate slur by the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards). My hon. Friend has given the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to withdraw that comment. People who are not able to protect themselves in the debate should at least have their names brought forward, or be given the courtesy of an apology.
As a dialogue has started between the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend, would you tell the hon. Gentleman that it would be a courtesy to the House if he were to take a further intervention so that the matter can be clarified?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
As I understand it, no names have been mentioned. I would, of course, expect hon. Members of all parties to show restraint when making comments. That is a general observation, which is intended for all.
§ Mr. Richards
No, I will not.
The council's Labour leader—one Tom Jones—has attempted to secure political advantage by instructing officers to identify potential gipsy sites in the wards of political opponents. That is in contravention of the council's written criteria for suitable locations. A total of nine potential sites were identified recently in a single ward. Eight of them are on privately owned farmland, and the other is on the football ground of Mawr community council. The sites have been identified without even a county-wide survey.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson
When the hon. Gentleman rose to speak, I thought that we would descend from the sublime to the ridiculous. The leader of the county to which he referred, County Councillor Tom Jones, is one of the most respected leaders of any county council in Wales. He has received several honours and plaudits from Conservative Secretaries of State. That shows the hon. Gentleman's lack of feeling and knowledge.
If he is so worried, he will be pleased to know that some of the proposed gipsy sites have been identified and some have been established in my constituency, which happens to be the constituency of that very distinguished leader of the county council, who is not here to answer for himself. It is disreputable and disgraceful that such a personalised attack should be made.
§ Mr. Richards
I shall continue.
1115 It will come as no surprise that the other five wards in the southern half of the Lliw valley are held by Labour councillors. Nor will it come as a surprise to Opposition Members that the planning officer responsible for deciding on the sites is a Labour party activist, one Eddie Jones.
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell
As the hon. Gentleman is continuing to display his ignorance of the area of winch he is speaking, which is part of my constituency, will he accept that a public inquiry had to be held some 18 months ago into the establishment of a possible gipsy site in the ward of a Labour county councillor next to the Felinclre tin plate works? Will he accept that as a fact?
§ Mr. Richards
If the hon. Gentleman will also accept as a fact that one county councillor has the prospect of some nine gipsy sites in that one ward. That is yet another example of Labour putting Labour first and the people last, and Labour working for Labour, not for Britain.
§ Mr. Ron Davies
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As I understood your ruling on my previous point of order, the hon. Gentleman was in order before because he had not referred to anyone by name. As the hon. Gentleman has now named two individuals, does he not have a responsibility to present some evidence to the House of Commons so that we can determine whether there is any substance to what he is saying?
It is disgraceful that individuals who have no opportunity to defend themselves are being insulted in this most cavalier way without any evidence being presented to us. Will you rule on that, Madam Deputy Speaker?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
It is possible for Members of Parliament to name people in that way, but it is expected of them to exercise restraint and responsibility in so doing.
§ Mr. Richards
The two people I have mentioned here are aware that others have levelled the same charges against them. So what I have said here this afternoon will not come as any surprise to them
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. It is not relevant whether the charges have been made before elsewhere. We are concerned with the standard of proceedings in this House now.
§ Mr. Ainger
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As you know, the hon. Gentleman is a relatively new Member. In your experience, is it not normal in such circumstances that an hon. Member provides some evidence rather than simply making accusations?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
That is a matter for the hon. Member involved. I have simply made general observations about the type of remarks that should be made and the responsibility with which serious accusations should be made.
§ Mr. Richards
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I do not want the Labour party in south Wales to become paranoid. Their brothers in the north are just as sinister and generally incompetent.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Have we not reached the point at which this new Member is making a series of such scurrilous 1116 attacks and acting in such a disreputable way that perhaps the Secretary of State should take him aside and tutor him in the courtesies of the House?
§ Mr. Richards
Back to north Wales, close to my constituency.
In Clwyd, for example, the department of commercial services lost £1.5 million in 1993–94. It is expected to lose a further £1 million this year. It is a department which is expected to show a profit. The losses were discovered only by audit. The situation has come about simply because Clwyd county council operates a no-redundancy policy.
So the House will be concerned to learn that the chairman of the personnel committee of Clwyd county council, Councillor Tom Middlehurst, was, before being elected as a member of the county council, the negotiator and full-time officer employed by the National and Local Government Officers Association, acting on behalf of the staff. He is not a poacher turned gamekeeper, but a poacher in gamekeeper's clothing.
The last but by no means least authority to which I wish to refer is Ynys Môn. I gave notice to the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) that I intended to raise the matter. He is not in his place, so it is a matter for him. There is a saying in Welsh, "Môn mam Cymru," which translates as "Môn, the mother of Wales." I am afraid that the borough council is a case of "Môn, the mother of all scandals in Wales." There are sufficient examples to keep the debate going for a month.
Discretionary grants have been misused. Information has been denied to councillors by the director of housing, who has for many years utilised delegated powers that were not formally granted to him. The chief executive and monitoring officer has refused to sanction independent action, in spite of representations by councilors.
There are allegations that councillors, and possibly even the director of housing, have been involved directly in a company called Tai Môn. A company of that name applied to purchase the borough's housing stock late in the 1980s. Furthermore, the development plan and grant application in respect of Mona airfield for civil and industrial use is also a subject of considerable local controversy and speculation.
The council's track record of granting planning consents to council members and their relatives is a disgrace. To sum up, in the words of one dismayed council tax payer in Ynys Môn, everything in Ynys Môn hinges on grant money. It matters not whether it succeeds, because the same people benefit. We are in danger of creating grant millionaires.
I should like to contrast the magnificent work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues are doing for Wales with the indolence of the Opposition parties and the damage they are causing. It seems that the Opposition parties have heard sufficient of the sleaze and scandal that has been going on in south Wales for many year—so much so that they cannot even sit there, take it and listen.
§ Mr. Richards
I see that the third team has stayed. I am grateful for that.
1117 Let us start at the bottom of the Opposition parties, with the Liberal Democrats. He was sitting there on his own, the lone stranger;—that part-time, honourable, but mostly learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). He is known in this place and beyond as the moonlighting Member for Montgomery. Last year, he told the Welsh Grand Committee that he would not be attending its first ever meeting in Cardiff, because he wanted to protest at the lack of a Welsh assembly—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I wish to make a point myself. I must make it clear to the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) that, while it is possible to make comments of a nature such as the hon. Gentleman has engaged in, I strongly deprecate personal comments of that nature about any Member of the House. I do not intend to preside over a Chamber where that is commonplace. I ask the hon. Gentleman to take considerably more care before he says any more about a Member of this House
§ Mr. Richards
I abide by your wisdom, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said that he would not attend his first ever meeting in Cardiff, because he wanted to protest at the lack of an assembly.
§ Mr. Carlile
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As you have said, this speech is an outrage to the usual standards of this House. Is it not the normal practice, when an hon. Member wishes to make a personal attack on another hon. Member, that he should give that other Member notice not only that he will make an attack but of the nature of that attack if it is personal?
It does not surprise me that the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) has given me no such notice. Will you invite the Government Welsh Whip, who is a man of some substance, to sit on the hon. Gentleman so that he goes the way of those melted chains to which he aspires?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
It is the convention and custom to give notice, but the content of what is said is not normally known. It is left to the discretion of the Member who wishes to raise the point.
§ Mr. Richards
In the event, when the Welsh Grand Committee met in Cardiff, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery was plying his trade in the legal profession at the Old Bailey, and served an injunction—
§ Mr. Carlile
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has just told an untruth. Although I practise as a barrister, like many Tory Members, and am proud to do so, on that day I was not at the Old Bailey. That is a fact. Please will you demand that the hon. Gentleman withdraws that accusation, as it is untrue?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Obviously, it is not possible for me to judge the accuracy of these matters. I have warned the hon. Gentleman more than once that he should not engage in what one might call personalities, but should stick to policies. I hope that I shall not have to make the point again
§ Mr. Richards.
I shall rephrase what I said, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. and learned Gentleman was plying his trade in the legal profession. And he served an injunction—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I have asked the hon. Gentleman not to continue with the discussion of personalities but to stick to policies. Does he understand what I have said, or does he not? I shall not warn him again.
§ Mr. Richards
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. Clearly, I hear what you say, and I withdraw the remarks if they cause that much offence to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery.
As the hon. Member for Caerphilly devoted so much of his speech to attacking my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, with your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to make one or two points about the hon. Gentleman. He pompously proclaims that he speaks for the people of Wales, whereas he does not even speak for his own colleagues. In the shadow Cabinet elections, he secured 121 votes out of 270 cast, so he does not even speak for his own Back Benchers.
Nor does the hon. Member for Caerphilly speak for the people of north Wales. I have made inquiries of many people in north Wales, trying to ascertain how frequently the hon. Gentleman has visited north Wales other than to go to party conferences. I can find no one who knows of an event to which the hon. Gentleman has been, nor a location such as a school or factory that he has visited. That may be wrong, because I have not trawled everybody who lives in north Wales, but, were the hon. Gentleman in his seat, I would invite him to tell us where he has been in north Wales and whom he has visited. Has he visited any schools, for example, as he seems to be particularly interested in education?
I do not wish to detain the House for much longer, except to say that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, Wales is winning with the Tories. It will continue to do so, despite Opposition attempts to undermine it.
§ 6.4 pm
§ Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)
It does not make me happy to follow the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) and I shall not comment on what he said other than to say that I was sad that he descended into the realms of personal attacks.
I shall devote my speech to housing and the homeless in Wales. I am sorry that I cannot be here at the end of this debate because I must go to Llandrindod where I am chairing a conference tomorrow. I must be there a little earlier than the Minister of State to deal with the architectural heritage fund.
Less than five years after the Department of the Environment reviewed the working of the 1985 homelessness legislation and found that it was "adequate" and "appropriate", the Secretary of State for the Environment is presenting a "Review of Homelessness and Access to Local Authority and Housing Association Tenancies". He says that it is now virtually impossible for anyone other than statutorily homeless households to obtain a council or housing association tenancy.
The Secretary of State for Wales will not be surprised at that. If massive numbers of council houses are sold off and 1119 housing associations cannot meet projected housing needs, it is only commonsense that those who need housing will not be housed. But according to the Secretary of State for Wales, that has nothing to do with it. "Ordinary" people who are waiting for a home cannot get one because of all the young single parents who are having babies just to jump the housing queue.
The Secretary of State says that it has nothing to do with the fall in the number of homes available for rent by 48,000 in the 10 years from 1982 to 1992. It has nothing to do with the rise in the number of households accepted as homeless to more than 10,000 in the same period. It has nothing to do with the estimated 60,000 people who experienced homelessness in some form in Wales last year.
According to the Secretary of State, longer waiting lists for council houses have nothing to do with the fact that high rents, shorthold tenancies, widespread disrepair, the requirement of bonds or deposits and rent in advance, the requirement for tenant employment, the prohibition of children, and the commonplace harassment all make the private sector a non-starter for many vulnerable home seekers.
It has nothing to do, according to the Secretary of State, with the fact that more than one in three marriages now fails. Families split up and often need cheaper and tented accommodation. Nor is it to do with the fact that, nationally, 1,000 homes are still being repossessed each week. In Wales in 1992, more than 19 families a day either lost or were threatened with the loss of their homes. They have to be housed. On average, 30 dependent children became officially homeless every day in Wales in 1992. Such children have to be housed, if not by district councils then by the social services under the Children Act 1989.
There are also the mentally ill, discharged from hospital into community care; there are youngsters coming out of care seeking and needing a secure and stable home; there are young offenders who need a new start; battered 'wives and children and the chronically sick. All those groups make priority demands on public and social housing.
If the Government will not allow councils to spend the money from council house sales on building special needs housing and if they underfund housing associations so that they can provide only one third of the social housing identified as needed, we can expect council waiting lists to get longer.
§ Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)
As housing associations will be expected to build for sale as opposed to for rent, what effect will there be on homelessness?
§ Mr. Wardell
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that the balance between houses for rent and houses for sale is significant, but as long as shared equity housing is available and the lower percentage applies, I am sure that will provide some assistance.
To return to the main points, we can expect that more families will have to cope with overcrowded conditions. We can expect more couples who are living with their in-laws to resent intensely the dichotomy between postponing parenthood and raising a family with grandparents, while aunts and uncles sleep on the couch in the living room, and to begrudge the lack of privacy.
According to the Secretary of State, housing needs cannot be met because young single girls are getting pregnant and using what the Government call a fast-track 1120 system into housing, pushing ordinary couples back down the list. To close that supposed fast track, the whole fragile framework of homelessness legislation has to be uprooted.
The Government say that they want a constructive public debate on their proposals. I am all for constructive debate, especially when we are debating the need to deny homeless people—the vast majority of whom are homeless through no fault of their own—access to a permanent home, and especially when it is proposed to reduce local authorities' powers and duties so that, at the discretion of the Secretary of State, they will have to ensure only that an as yet undetermined agency can provide for the homeless a roof for the short to medium term.
What determines access to housing is the number of houses that are available and, particularly in relation to housing the homeless, the number of affordable homes available. The Government have progressively cut the housing allocations in England and Wales.
The Welsh Federation of Housing Associations reckons that Government plans to cut the housing association grant rate will result in a £1 a week increase in rent for tenants for every 1 per cent. decrease in grant. That alone will erode the supply of affordable housing in Wales, increasing waiting lists.
As for teenage single parents, they play a minor role in the overall picture. If all young girls under 18 were excluded from applying under the homeless persons legislation, that would affect allocations by a maximum of only 2 per cent., according to a survey of local authorities by the Institute of Housing.
The 1991 labour force survey found that only 0.3 per cent. of the heads of council homes were single mothers under the age of 20. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys "Population Trends" No. 71 shows that more than 50 per cent. of the estimated 1.3 million lone parents in Britain became lone parents as a result of divorce, separation or death. Single women account for only 29 per cent. of lone parents, and a further 10 per cent. are single men. Men comprise one in three of all single parents.
DSS research report No. 6 on lone-parent families in the United Kingdom—I am sure that the Secretary of State uses it for his bedtime reading—states:Despite the anxieties that are often expressed, that many young women are getting pregnant deliberately for one reason or another,…we found little evidence that this was the case.In 1991, lone parents between 16 and 24 comprised only 6 per cent. of all families with dependent children. In the last three months of last year, only 2 per cent. of households housed as homeless under the 1985 Act were headed by a young person. That 2 per cent. includes all young people housed for whatever reason, not only those with children. There is no information whatsoever on housing applications by pregnant women. Those are the very small numbers of tenancies involved.
I cannot believe that a Minister—indeed, no less than a Secretary of State—should not familiarise himself with the factual background information on the area in which he proposes to legislate. I find it incredible that the whole structure of housing policy should be changed because of the blind prejudice of the Secretary of State and a few of his Cabinet colleagues. It is blind prejudice and, as ever, a desire to cut spending.
It is important to look at just what the Government propose. They propose that local authorities will have a duty to "assist" housing applicants in priority need who have no home. They propose to make the new duty 1121 applicable only when the home is lost—when there is no roof—instead of when homelessness is imminent within 28 days. That duty starts only after the council has made an assessment of the claim and satisfied itself that the applicant really is entitled to help.
In practice, the pending homeless facing eviction within days will end up, in great distress, in the worst private accommodation; thus, they will never appear as homelessness statistics. At a stroke, the number of homeless will fall, in the same way as unemployment fell when who was or who was not a claimant was redefined.
The councils' new duty to those brave enough to hang on and go to the council offices after the bailiffs have put them on the street will be to find them temporary accommodation. Applicants will be expected to use their time in shelter to find their own accommodation. What is likely to happen to many is what the Institute of Housing and the Institute of Housing in Wales calls a revolving door syndrome, when a homeless application is followed by a temporary letting in the private sector, followed by a reapplication as homeless. As the Institute of Housing points out, that will increase administrative costs for councils and also create insecurity, which could severely affect family life, employment and education prospects. That surely cannot be what the Government regard as improving the well-being of our citizens. Where is the Prime Minister's vision? He is not in the House to hear this piece, and I apologise for not giving him advance notice that I was going to mention him. I hope that he will forgive me.
Under the new proposals, before people living with their parents, relatives or friends can be accepted for assistance, they must be served with a court order to evict them—so much for the Government's family values. The review paper also seeks views on whether hostels should be available for young single mothers. It does not say that the Government plan to provide money to build them. Ninety per cent. of respondents to the Institute of Housing's questionnaire on the review of homelessness legislation were firmly against any move to make the council's housing duty discretionary, temporary, or both. The Institute of Housing, the Welsh Federation of Housing Associations and Shelter Cymru share the concern of housing officers about the proposed change.
In Wales, there has been marked progress in dealing more effectively with homelessness, and co-operative and innovative schemes are in their infancy. All that work is now jeopardised, not because any factual evidence shows that it has failed or because a better scheme has been devised, but on the whim and the convenient prejudice of the Secretary of State and fellow travellers at the Treasury.
The review is devious. It seeks to justify further cuts in expenditure on housing and at the same time cuts the number of homeless by changing the definition of what it is to be homeless. It seeks to divert attention from the real cause of long waiting lists. The root cause of homelessness and the shortage of rented homes in Wales and the rest of Britain is the lack of money and support for affordable and permanent rented housing. It is by building houses and creating homes that waiting lists will be cut. Bigotry towards teenage single parents is a red herring that gets us nowhere. The review is irrelevant. It is constructive only in 1122 exposing just how fragile are homeless people's rights. It concentrates the mind on how wide is the gap between housing provision and housing need.
The review should be withdrawn. If the Secretary of State's contribution to the most vulnerable, the most distressed and least secure of our Welsh citizens is to sever their right to a home, the sooner he severs his tenuous connection with Wales, the better.
§ Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)
I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for not having been present during the first part of his excellent speech. I had a long-standing engagement to meet, in the other place, my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Ferrers, who is Minister of State at the Home Office, to discuss policing in south Wales—an issue which I raised in the recent debate in the House on the funding of local government. I make no apology for returning to that issue today.
We have a great problem. In 1992, the number of recorded crimes per police officer was 51 in south Wales compared with 44 in England and Wales and 42 in the whole of Wales. The number of recorded crimes per 100,000 of the population was 12,355—almost double the figure 10 years ago for the area covered by the South Wales police and considerably more than the figures for the rest of Wales, which was 9,602, and for England and Wales, which was 9,353. The South Wales police performed well, all things considered, in that each officer managed to make 18 arrests in 1992, which is slightly better than the figure for the rest of Wales, 17; and for England and Wales, 15. The number of arrests per 100,000 of the population in 1992 was 4,344 in south Wales; 3,955 for the whole of Wales; and 3,275 for England and Wales. The clear picture therefore is that more crimes are being recorded in south Wales than in the rest of Wales and the whole of England and Wales and that the success of the police in arresting people is slightly better.
The recent catastrophe regarding the budget of the South Wales police has had dire effects in my constituency. I have had discussions with senior officers and can report the following consequences. Operation Bumblebee, an important initiative designed to reduce the number of burglaries, has had to be put back, perhaps for several years. Just before Christmas, I was told that there was a shortage of petrol to put in police cars and, on one occasion, it was impossible to send a constable to Llantwit Major to arrest a burglar because the force could not afford to pay the constable£ 7;.50 for the petrol.
In November last year, my local police force was optimistic that it would achieve a zero increase in crime for last year—the first time that would have happened in many years. Sadly, that aspiration is in tatters. Local police stations are still under threat of closure, although that seems to have been withdrawn for the time being. There has been a substantial loss of police overtime. I was told that it has been impossible on occasion to send officers to court simply because there is no money to pay them overtime and that the only basis on which officers could attend court was by submitting overtime payment claims in the subsequent year.
That is not the way to run a police budget. The local police believe that they have been forced to renege on promises that they made to the public. On bank holidays, 1123 for example, there is only enough money to provide 37 officers in the Vale division, instead of 51, which would constitute what they regard as a skeleton staff. That means that, taking into account the shift system, only 10 police officers would be out in the whole of the Vale of Glamorgan and Penarth, and only one traffic car and one dog, where there should be four traffic cars. People who are arrested in the evening have been bailed at police stations rather than being kept in overnight. They are granted bail not because the police are satisfied that that would be appropriate, but because there are not the staff to supervise the prisoners overnight. That shows the scale of the problem. I shall now deal with how the problem arose.
In the past few weeks and months, we have seen an unholy battle over who is responsible for the underfunding. I wish to put the blame where it appears to me squarely to lie—with the South Wales police authority.
If the blame lies squarely with the police authority, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, why did he waste his time going to see Earl Ferrers?
§ Mr. Sweeney
I should have thought that that was self-evident. Responsibility for home affairs rests with the Home Secretary and his Ministers, rather than with the Secretary of State for Wales. When I wished to raise my concern about the issue, it was naturally to the Home Office that I went.
What I learnt during that meeting reinforced information that I had already received in correspondence with the Home Office. The South Wales police authority comprises, among others, elected councilors from South Glam organ, Mid Glam organ and West Glamorgan county councils. Under the indicative distribution arrangements for Wales, 5.6 per cent. of the budget should be going to the South Wales police this year. Last year, they received only 1.6 per cent. When I have taxed local councilors—Labour councillors, incidentally—with those figures, I have been told, "It is all your wicked Government's fault: rate capping prevents us from giving the police authority the money that we would like it to receive."
With respect, that is nonsense. The total 1994–95 budget for the three local authorities is in the region of£ 900 million and the amount that the police desperately need to deal with the shortfall and deliver the services that they have promised is a mere £5 million. My arithmetic tells me that that represents a percentage of 0.5 recurring. It is not even as if the three authorities had to find the whole amount; they need find only 49 per cent. of it, because 51 per cent. of the budget for all police forces in England and Wales comes from the Home Office. By giving the police 1.6 per cent. rather than 5.6 per cent., the police authority has deprived them of not only the part that it should have paid them, but the part that would have come from the Home Office if it had paid the full whack.
I appreciate the problems of capping and I realise that all local authorities face difficulties in trying to keep within their budgets. Every organisation, however, must deal with the same constraints and I do not see why local authorities should be exempted. If the Government are to control overall spending levels, local government must play its part. I believe that central Government have been generous to local authorities in Wales, in all the circumstances.
In view of the smallness of the total amount involved —£4;5 million out of £900 million, with less than £2.5 million actually having to come out of the£ 900 million 1124 —it should be relatively easy for local authorities to trim their budgets elsewhere. Of course, they are right to say that they have statutory responsibilities in a number of areas and that some of their expenditure is unavoidable; but I see the waste that takes place in my local authority, South Glamorgan.
I have written to the authority about issues such as its decision to reduce spending by turning off the lights on the main roads in my constituency. I suggested that that was a very short-sighted policy, given that the accident rate tends to be higher on roads whose lights have been switched off, as does the incidence of bulb failure. What is the point of spending a large amount of capital in installing street lights and then switching them off in a form of short-termism? That is a truly penny-pinching approach.
Although my overtures in favour of switching the lights on were ignored, it may be significant that they were switched on immediately after one person was killed in an accident in South Glamorgan. No apology was made for the fact that they had been off in the first place, but somehow the money was found.
Given the importance that the public attach to policing, it behoves all county councillors who happen to serve on police authorities—and all other members of police authorities—to realise the vital importance of maintaining an effective police force. The public will accept nothing less. It is not simply a question of how much money is made available to the police; it is also a question of how that money is spent. What appears to be emerging now is that the way in which the police budget has been spent has not been properly controlled.
It seems that overtime payments have been allowed to accrue and claims for those payments have not been put in. That means that the treasurer of the police authority has not at any given time had a full grasp of how high or low spending is running. That was certainly brought home to the South Wales police authority in a very painful way. I understand that at one stage it was told that it was spending well over £1 million under budget. Naturally, the senior officers did the obvious thing and started to increase spending—only to be told, as late as July 1993, that they were overspending at that stage to the tune of more than£ 500,000 pounds and would have to put their budget in order.
Another factor has distorted the police authority's budget. Not only had it overspent on overtime; it had relied on an assumption that substantial savings in salary levels would result from the retirement of police officers. In fact, those savings were not achieved, because the number of officers retiring did not match expectations. In the meantime, a number of civilian workers had been employed. In theory, that should have improved police efficiency, because civilians can perform certain tasks at lower cost than police officers. The net result, however, was a considerable unanticipated overspend.
Those are serious issues, which need to be tackled by the police authority. They need the full support of the county councils, which contribute to the budget of the police authority.
I have an assurance from Lord Ferrers that the Government fully realise the importance of policing in Wales. All that I said to him was that, even if the police authority discharged its duty and the police received the full £5 million that they should have received, better 1125 resources would still be needed for the police in south Wales. That should mean not only more money and more police officers, but better use of existing resources.
It is especially necessary for the police to make much better use of information technology so that there can be a more efficient exchange of information and so that experienced police officers no longer waste a considerable amount of their time typing out charge sheets by hand. Before entering the House I was a solicitor, engaged in the court duty solicitor scheme and in the police station duty solicitor scheme. I frequently visited local police stations in the area and, frankly, I was appalled at the obvious waste of police time resulting from inefficient methods.
The Government are often criticised for taking too much control of the affairs of local government. I believe, however, that in this case the Home Office should be taking more control, not less, of the running of local police forces, especially if police forces are mismanaged and underfunded as a result of poor local control. I would especially like the Home Office to give a firm steer to all police authorities, in England as well as in Wales, to encourage them to spend parts of their budgets on suitable equipment that would enable them to function efficiently.
Time and time again I hear from my constituents that, notwithstanding the increase in the number of police officers which we know—on paper—has taken place, coupled with the increase in white collar staff to back them up, the public see fewer, not more, police officers on the street. That is partly because many of those police officers are in panda cars or high-speed police vehicles. I am not suggesting that they should not be properly equipped in that way; it is no good a bobby on the beat trying to give chase to someone in a fast stolen car.
The police want more police officers to be on the beat. The success of community watch schemes and so on depends on it. It is vital—I know that we are beginning to do it—to achieve a better relationship between the police and schoolchildren and between the police and the public, but we can do so only if we release more of our officers from the burden of unnecessary paperwork, to which inefficient equipment at police stations often contributes.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
Nothing is sacred, apparently, not even the chains of the mayors of boroughs such as Llanidloes—at least, not to the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards), although I reassure myself that on the same side of the House sits the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), who has a proper sense of Welsh history and would wish those mayoral chains to be preserved. I suppose that after Piltdown man we have Meltdown man, although I comfort myself with the recollection that Piltdown man turned out to be a fraud.
This has been a rather sad debate. The hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West came to the House with a great deal of promise and was said to have a promising ministerial career in front of him. In this afternoon's debate we have probably seen that promising ministerial career—which would have been based on intelligence—destroyed by bad judgment and melting down into a phial of poison.
At the beginning of the debate, the Secretary of State made an announcement about transport policy. We all listened with much interest and we had a short tour of 1126 Wales by intervention. The Secretary of State kindly let us all intervene to make our specific arguments. I am disappointed that we have not yet heard an announcement about the Newtown bypass, but I am grateful for the assurance that it will be considered.
I ask the Secretary of State to consider one small thing, which would cost very little, and about which I have written to the Minister of State—provision for the disabled in towns and villages which are crossed by trunk roads for which the Welsh Office has responsibility. I wrote to the Minister of State specifically about Welshpool. It is a serious problem for disabled people. The right hon. Gentleman gave me a positive response and I hope that that issue can be expedited.
I had hoped today that the Secretary of State would give us a little more hope for the carriage of freight on the railways. Not a bean is carried, in terms of freight, on the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth line. It would be nice if we could hear a commitment—
§ Mr. Carlile
I am glad to see the Secretary of State nodding in agreement with the principle, at least. It would be nice to hear a commitment to transport more freight by railway, rather than to have it trundling through the towns and villages of mid-Wales.
Tonight I shall speak principally about agriculture. I do so because it is very important to rural mid-Wales and also because the Minister of State, who is responsible directly for agriculture in Wales, will, I understand, wind up the debate.
Wales depended on agriculture before Welsh coal and steel were mass-produced to stoke and build the industrial revolution. All hon. Members present are only too well aware of the significant effect that the industrial revolution had on the communities of south Wales. The industrial revolution is now part of history. Today we are in the midst of the post-industrial revolution, of which the main characteristic is probably the deconstruction of the past. Wales has suffered disproportionately, with the spring tide of destruction in the coal and steel industries and with the resulting enormous economic and social upheaval.
We welcome the fact that the Welsh economy has attracted many foreign and multinational companies and few people could doubt sensibly that the investment of such companies has been necessary and welcome. However, I regret that the international investment has not been matched by growth in Welsh indigenous industry, despite remarkable exceptions such as Laura Ashley and, more recently, Control Techniques in Montgomeryshire.
It is a matter of regret that so little risk capital has been invested in Wales in proportion to the risk and venture capital invested in England and indeed in Scotland.
I suggest to Ministers that it is unsound economics and unwise politics to accept that the Welsh work force should be the lowest paid in the United Kingdom and that our school leavers and unemployed people should have to make do so often with inadequate training provision.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans
The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the lack of indigenous investment in industry in Wales. He may be aware that the report produced by the Institute of Welsh Affairs 2010 specifically drew attention to the need to develop a spirit of enterprise in Wales, 1127 which, it has to be recognised on both sides of the House, has perhaps looked too much to the past. Will he discuss that?
§ Mr. Carlile
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. Wales has not been awash with entrepreneurialism, which, as I was trying to say, needs to be encouraged. The old business expansion schemes barely featured in Wales whereas in the south of England one could hardly move for leaflets about them. We need to bring the spirit of enterprise to Wales.
I said that I would concentrate on agriculture. At the moment, 18,000 people work in agriculture in Wales. That is still a significant proportion of the Welsh work force, although the number is falling. In 1920, the figure was 70,000; in 1950, it was 50,000; and, as I said, today it is 18,000. The decline is exceptionally relevant to rural and hilly Wales. Many parts of Wales still depend on the direct and indirect jobs and income from farming. In my constituency, as much as 16 per cent. of the work force is still employed in and around agriculture, but the decline in agriculture is apparent to all who visit.
The decline has caused the demise or amalgamation of farms, the loss of chapels and churches, and the closure of schools, pubs and shops and of many agriculturally based businesses. We have, of course, welcomed the work of the Development Board for Rural Wales, but it has often been work of a very different character which has not served to save villages.
As time passes, we once again face the risk of rural depopulation resulting from the decline in agriculture. Agriculture will continue to decline unless we are prepared to be truly radical and imaginative in our approach and brave enough to take the long-term view, which has never been taken in this country, save at the time of the formation of the common agricultural policy in which we chose not to participate. Although there has been an improvement recently—I shall not quarrel with the statistics given by the Secretary of State—the problem is compounded by the historically low income base.
The Employment Gazette of February this year gave the average hourly income for all industries and services as £8.44. For farmers the average was £4.97, barely 60 per cent. of the average for all industries and services. Government policies have compounded the disparity. The hill livestock compensatory allowance is, for many farmers, the lifeline that allows them to farm land which would otherwise be unviable. The Government used to recognise the importance of the HLCA. The section on Wales in the most recent Conservative manifesto stated:We will give further resources to our Rural Initiative. And we will continue to support hill farmers through the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances".That commitment undoubtedly impressed many farmers in rural Wales—not surprisingly—but, unfortunately, the reality has not matched it. Farmers have been helped by accidents rather than policy, notably by black Wednesday and the devaluation of the green pound. They are temporary conditions which, if the economy—as the Government promise—becomes stronger, lead to a further reduction in farm incomes. We suffer from short-termism in our agriculture policy. As a result, many farmers whom I have met earn £4,000 to £4,500 a year for hard work on a family farm, with little prospect of making a decent living in the future.
Many farmers must also now bear the financial costs of the necessary drive towards increased environmental 1128 sensitivity. Farmers are keen environmentalists—if it were not for them we should not have the countryside that we love—but they cannot conjure cash out of the air. The Government have, however, reduced by £40 million the expenditure available for the environment by reducing the grants for agricultural diversification and the farm conservation grant scheme.
Welsh farming needs investment if it is to survive. We have to decide whether it is worth farming on the hills. If we decide that it is not, we shall have a derelict and ugly countryside, bereft of its communities. If we decide that it is—as I believe—we must support it. I shall suggest in a moment how we should do so.
Welsh agriculture is dominated by the common agricultural policy. It is generally agreed—I do not dissent from the view—that the amount of money spent on the CAP is too high. Efforts have been made to change its structure via the MacSharry reforms, but they seem merely to have increased bureaucracy, as happened with the integrated administration and control system, cattle identification documents and the arable scheme which splits Wales into two areas. Although it could not be said that the areas were arbitrary, they are nevertheless proving to be unjust and are exciting consternation among farmers of a kind which, I suspect, would be likely to vote for the Conservatives rather than the Liberal Democrats.
§ Mr. Ainger
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman; agree that the position adopted by the Welsh Office in relation to arable regionalisation is wholly illogical? Wales produces only 2 per cent. of the cereals produced by England, but England has one system and one payment whereas Wales has to have a two-tier system. Is not that irrational?
§ Mr. Carlile
I agree with the hon. Gentleman; and he will find that the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales agree with both of us.
It is increasingly likely—even inevitable—that the CAP will be altered dramatically. I believe that we should tear it up and start with a blank sheet of paper. The Americans are opposed to it; the third world is opposed to it; and, perhaps most important, the emerging central European democracies are opposed to it. The CAP is self-evidently incompatible with the expanding European Union about which many of us are enthusiastic. The accession in due course of other countries—notably the democracies of central Europe—will provide the opportunity for change.
If and when the CAP goes, it will have to be replaced with something; if not, the rural dereliction to which I referred will follow. We must prepare for that now. It will not be good enough for us to learn, following a meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers, that the shop is now closed. However, some of our experience of the way in which the business of the European Union has been conducted leads one to conclude that that could happen.
Post-CAP farming will be very different from the agriculture of today. It is likely that there will be no more intervention and no more payment for fallow, set-aside land. For many farmers, especially those in Wales where holdings tend to be small by British standards, it will be uneconomic to farm for profit in the traditional way. We must find new systems of farming, with the emphasis on not only food production but land use. Intensitivity will be a thing of the past, but the danger is that many farmers will be blown away in the often cruel gale of the free market.
1129 In Wales, we must prepare a structure—a strategy—to ensure that land is used in a diverse and economic way. Farmers must be given the training and funds to enable them to diversify as much as possible. Tourism, alternative cash crops, rural industry and leisure are all very important, but we must bear it in mind that diversification is difficult in the remotest areas—one can sell only so many love spoons at the gate.
I suggest that farmers should be encouraged, probably through a scheme of fairly negotiated contracts, to come up with as many strategies of their own as possible for the future use of their land. I foresee the possibility of a system in which each farmer will have the option of either remaining in the free market or negotiating a contract for the future production, environment and management of his farm, or a mixture of the two. Only if we are brave enough to venture down the road of considering that kind of future will we avoid disaster for the hills.
Farming was the mainstay of the Welsh economy long before coal and steel. Now coal and steel have declined. The challenge is for agriculture not to go the same way, but to show that it can prosper, albeit in a different world. If it dies, a huge swathe of Welsh culture and society will die with it. The solution to this long-term problem is a challenge. It will take a bold and imaginative Government to introduce the kind of agricultural policies which will meet the uncertain future. Rural Wales is rich in those "dappled things" of which Hopkins wrote so immortally. Unfortunately, the survival of the Welsh countryside depends on the mortal weaknesses of economists and politicians, but we must not shrink from the challenge.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth)
I wish to go back to where we began the debate, with the Secretary of State's announcement on the road programme in Wales. I wish particularly to congratulate my right hon. Friend on what he announced for my particular part of Wales. The emphasis of focusing on economic needs and at the same time minimising environmental damage is a welcome development.
It is perhaps to be expected from a Secretary of State who represents a constituency in Wokingham that he sees the importance of strategic motorway routes, which are a significant means by which the state can properly contribute to economic prosperity and development. Those of us in south-east Wales are particularly aware of the M4 effect—I appreciate that it does not go far enough; it does not go further up the valleys, and I can see the point that will be made—which has swept down and transformed Reading from the rather grubby railway town of 20 years ago and transformed Swindon into a much more prosperous place than we remember when we used to be stuck there because of British Rail on Sunday afternoons 20 or 30 years ago.
§ Mr. Evans
Yes, I agree. That is probably not a bad sedentary observation. But one well remembers going back to university in the 1960s and being stuck on Swindon station on Sundays, sometimes for four or five hours if British Rail was doing its maintenance work.
1130 The M4 effect has meant increasing prosperity, and it is a very useful way in which public expenditure can assist economic development. But there is increasing awareness in the 1990s that if one is to build roads, they must be economically highly desirable and focused, and we are much more aware of the environmental damage that can be caused by the wrong type of road proposal in the wrong place.
I do not know if, because of the Standing Committee on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) heard the news, which I have no doubt he will join me in welcoming, of the deletion of the A40 Crickhowell bypass proposal.
§ Mr. Evans
He was here for it. I am corrected. It is a matter of considerable importance for our part of the world. My right hon. Friend very properly told us, in respect of the Abergavenny western bypass, that he would await the inspector's report. That is the correct way of proceeding in these matters. I have no doubt that in Abergavenny the deletion of the Crickhowell bypass proposal will be greeted as an encouraging signal that the Abergavenny western bypass will go the same way.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans
My hon. Friend may know that it has been estimated that, if the Abergavenny western bypass were to proceed, traffic flows through Crickhowell would increase by 17 per cent. In those circumstances, if we are not to have a bypass in Crickhowell, he will understand that the people in Crickhowell will be anxious to ensure that we do not have the Abergavenny western bypass either.
§ Mr. Evans
My hon. Friend is right. Those two schemes go together, and the logic and the policy must be that if one is to be abandoned, the other must be as well. In Abergavenny that will be particularly welcome, because the proposal to build a motorway-style causeway across the Usk valley, creating an unsightly urban scar in a particularly attractive piece of rural landscape, with the kind of 10-metre lighting columns which at night can be seen from the top of the Skirrid mountain, and generally debasing the environmental quality of the whole area, is exactly the kind of ill thought-out, old-fashioned, 1960s style of road building that we no longer want in the 1990s.
The other facet of this matter which has become increasingly appreciated is that when one builds new roads —sometimes that is a good thing, when trying to create an important strategic route such as the M4 corridor or to improve the heads of the valleys road through the A465 —and attempts to create and attract traffic, they do attract traffic and that sometimes, by creating new roads in the wrong place, one attracts traffic where one does not want it.
As I understand the position in Abergavenny, the peak traffic jam problem is on Sunday morning at bank holiday weekends, when the type of traffic which is said to be objected to and which stuffs up Abergavenny is visiting tourists, who are exactly the kind of people that we want to see more of in Abergavenny. So if communities are to go on living, and if historic communities are to preserve the 1131 quality that makes their environment so attractive, as in the case of Abergavenny, road schemes must be sensitive and be directed more to environmental matters.
I have another problem to put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, if the A40 is not to be the great strategic through route which, as I understand it, both the Department of Transport and the Welsh Office have assumed for many years.
Some of us sometimes, in protest at the M4 being rather full of traffic, take the other way to south-east Wales—via Gloucester—and see, as vie are stuck in a traffic jam at Northolt, those enormous notices telling us about the great road scheme described as the "A40 London-Fishguard trunk route". Will we see an end to that scheme in its entirety now that it has at least been realised that it cannot be expected to proceed through the environmentally sensitive part of Gwent and Breconshire in the same way? I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement.
I am particularly grateful to the Welsh Office ministerial team for their recent announcements, not just because of greater respect for the environment but also because of heritage matters. I refer particularly to the emphasis on and increased resources available for re-listing and properly surveying Wales for buildings of architectural and historic importance, and the help to be given in the form of the proposed redundant churches and chapels fund to save parts of Wales's important heritage.
I have one query about local government reform. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) is absolutely right in thinking that I am the kind of Tory who is deeply concerned about mayoral chains. Not only do I not want them melted down: I believe them to be part of the municipal heritage of Victorian Wales, and want them preserved.
But there is an important point here, which goes slightly beyond mayoral chains. It is about what happens when local government is reformed and councils are closed down, which may or may not be controversial. Councils tend to accumulate over the years various types of memorabilia—paintings of former civic dignitaries and so on—which are terribly important and part of the pride of the community. I ask my right hon. Friend whether proper arrangements will be made to preserve these vital parts of the Welsh municipal and county heritage.
§ 7.9 pm
§ Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)
There has been a debate on the Government's "back to basics" policies for several months now. Many Opposition Members have argued that the Government were referring to individual morality, whereas the Government would deny that, saying that they were trying to apply those policies to some of the big issues, such as health, education and crime.
It is hard to deny that they were talking about individual morality, because it became obvious when we heard the attacks on single mothers. We were given to believe by some Ministers that all the problems that western civilisation faced were probably caused by single mothers —that is, until one Minister said a few days later that the clergy must also take a considerable amount of the responsibility.
To be fair to the Government, I believe that they were also trying to apply "back to basics" to the big issues. I am surprised that that idea caused such a stir, because in my opinion that is what they have been doing over the past 1132 decade—applying that policy to the problems we now face. Every time I hear the Minister of State, Department for Education speak, and every time I hear the Secretary of State for Wales address the Welsh Grand Committee on education, as he did last week, I am convinced that the Government are sincere about going back to basics.
In educational terms, "back to basics" could mean not only changing from comprehensive to grant-maintained schools, but changing from comprehensive schools back to the old 11-plus examination. There is often a lot of debate about the 11-plus, and much time is set aside to say how grand the grammar schools were. That is debatable, to say the least. However, it is remarkable that, when we debate the 11-plus, virtually no time is given to discussing the merits or otherwise of the old secondary modern schools.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans
While we are talking about the benefits of the old grammar schools, may I declare an interest and say that I went to the same grammar school as the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), the former leader of the Labour party—although I always say that I learned more there than he did. Were not grammar schools a vehicle for social mobility, an avenue by which children were enabled to do so much better in life, and has that not been cut off by many of the changes that took place in the 1960s and 1970s, which the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) appears to support?
§ Mr. Smith
That does not show in the statistics; very few children of working class parents ended up in our universities. That is point number one.
Point number two is that, when we discuss the 11-plus examination, we should talk not only of the merits or otherwise of the grammar schools, but also about those of the secondary modern schools, because, under the old system, 75 per cent. of our youngsters were written off and dumped at the grand old age of 11. They were dumped in the secondary modern schools and conditioned for life at 15 or 16, when they would go out to work, labouring in the pit, the factories or the building sites. The lucky few would manage to achieve apprenticeships.
That was a tragedy. Many youngsters with tremendous skills, talents and creativity were not given the opportunity to use them for the benefit of their communities, and even to create the industries in which their fellows could have been employed when they left the secondary modern schools.
What worries me is that, if the Government go back to basics and return to the 11-plus and the secondary modern schools, it will all be even worse the second time round. If it happens again, we shall be dumping youngsters in secondary modern schools that will condition them not for a life labouring in factories and building sites, with a few skilled apprenticeships, but for a life on the dole, with the lucky few doing soul-destroying, menial, part-time jobs in the local factories.
It is a tragedy that Conservatives are still willing to defend the old secondary modern system and the 11-plus, which wrote off 75 per cent. of our youngsters at the age of 11.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts)
The hon. Gentleman is expressing concern about children who are not academically inclined. Does he not appreciate what the Government are now trying to do 1133 by introducing GNVQs—general national vocational qualifications—and so on? Those are aimed at precisely the people whom he is talking about.
§ Mr. Smith
I am shocked to hear a senior Minister talking about the old 11-plus system and the secondary modern schools in a way that shows that he is willing to write off the 75 per cent. of youngsters who did not go to grammar schools as, in his words, "not academically inclined".
I happen to be an authority on secondary modern schools, because I was one of the children who attended one. I found that the people who went to secondary modern school and joined me in the activities of the school were academically inclined. The tragedy, and the argument against the 11-plus examination, is the fact that those children did not have the opportunity to show that they were academically inclined, because they were written off at the age of 11.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans
I do not want to intervene too often, but surely the lesson is that we should have been endeavouring to improve the standards of technical and secondary modern education, just as the Minister has suggested, rather than cutting away the grammar schools, as happened in the 1960s and 1970s.
§ Mr. Smith
I am all in favour of raising standards, but the hon. Gentleman does not understand that the 11-plus worked against that idea, because it said to 75 per cent. of youngsters, "You will spend four or five years in a secondary modern school being conditioned not to expect anything better in life than a job in the factory, the building site or the pit."
It is an insult to those children for the Minister to categorise every one of them as not being academically inclined. That shows a misunderstanding of the nature of schools under the 11-plus system. It is an insult to every one of those youngsters who would have liked the opportunity to use his or her skills, and who objected to being written off at the age of 11.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams
I am surprised that we are having this argument across the Chamber, because I thought the Conservatives had now come to terms with comprehensive schools. Is not one of the problems with education in Britain the fact that we are still elitist and tend to think only of the top 10, 20 or 30 per cent., whereas Japan, Germany and the United States think that 60, 80 or 90 per cent. of the people need to be very well educated today, because jobs will change so much during their working lifetime?
§ Mr. Smith
I agree with my hon. Friend. The situation will be exacerbated by student loans, because youngsters from working-class homes will find it increasingly difficult to participate in the colleges and universities in our land.
I shall touch on another area in which the Government are serious in their belief that we should go back to basics. Over the past decade, they have definitely been developing "back to basics" policies on employment—and, indeed, on unemployment. For them, "back to basics" means back to the 1920s and 1930s.
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) should know better. He would not shake his head if he revisited the constituency in which he was brought up, and with which I am sure he was proud to be associated. He would see that conditions in that constituency are becoming increasingly similar to those which prevailed in the 1920s and 1930s.
A number of my colleagues and I spent a considerable time collecting and collating statistics on poverty in Blaenau Gwent. We also went out and interviewed people in the villages to find out about their experiences. I should like to quote from the pamphlet. It will be one of the few occasions in the history of Parliament when the words of ordinary working people, who have been subjected to extreme poverty, will be spoken in this Chamber. Some 50 per cent. of the people in one street of families we surveyed were unemployed.
I want to relate the experiences of those people in our community who suffer severe poverty. The first case is that of an unemployed couple with one child at home. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor may think that it is a laughing matter, but if he bothered to visit our community, I suspect that he would be reluctant to laugh at the people and their experiences, which I am about to iterate.
Excuses are not necessary on this occasion. I repeat that one case involves an unemployed couple with one child at home. The father, aged 49, is on invalidity benefit and suffers from arthritis. He has not worked for 11 years. He says:The Hoover's broken, it'll cost about £70 to repair so we'll just have to go without. We don't go on holidays—just day trips. We don't go out, we don't drink.We have got into debt but we learnt from that. It we want something now we sit down and talk about it. You've got to watch every penny.I think we go from day to day. We feel a bit depressed. It affects your whole life—its monotonous. Some days we get up thinking if only something was different. But you've just got to get on with it.Another case involves an unemployed couple with an unemployed son. The father, who is 62, has been unemployed for 10 years. He has worked in the building trade for 30 years, sometimes on low pay. He said:People like us will get into debt. The social will only give you a loan and then you have to fight for it. We put in for a £70 loan for a cooker and they wanted £8 a week back off us. Well we didn't bother—we couldn't afford to pay that.We went on holiday once—we paid for a caravan—that's in more than 30 years of marriage … I'm not optimistic for me, nor for my grandchildren. The chosen few will be getting all the resources and all the others will get left out.s That shows some of the problems that we have in our communities.
It is right to accept the Government's argument that they are committed to going "back to basics" in terms of unemployment. That policy extends further, because unemployment and poverty are related to other problems, such as low pay. The Government often give the impression that, if we had low pay in our communities, all our problems would be resolved and all of a sudden our communities would flourish. That is nonsense. If low pay were the answer to all our problems, Germany would be the poorest country in the world and India the richest. I suspect that that is not the case.
Bad health is another problem that is linked to poverty, to unemployment and, indeed, to low wages. That issue is relevant in my community and constituency, where we have some of the worst health problems in Wales. A high 1135 percentage of people in Blaenau Gwent have a permanent disability. The 1991 census shows that 41 per cent. of households include someone with a long-term illness or disability that limits how they live. The people in my community, therefore, have a vested interest in ensuring that there is decent health care, and that we maintain the national health service.
The Government are sincere in their belief that we should go "back to basics" in the NHS. Their idea of "back to basics" is to return to the position that prevailed before the NHS, when people's ability to receive effective treatment depended not on their health needs, but on the amount of money in their pocket.
The Government are determined once again to go "back to basics". The health service will be increasingly dependent on, and determined by, whether people can make a quick buck out of health provision. By supporting that trend, the Government are going "back to basics". That is true not only of this country—health care in the United States is going back to basics. At least it is now recognised in the United States that there are major problems in the health service, and efforts are being made to resolve them.
A few years ago, when I read a book on health care in the United States, I was reminded that we are copying the position that prevails in the United States. The book stated that the chairman of Kentucky Fried Chicken had resigned his position to head the new Hospital Corporation of America, because, in his words, the growth potential in hospitals was enormous—it was even greater than in Kentucky Fried Chicken.
I do not know how many right hon. and hon. Members have tasted Kentucky fried chicken. Those who have done so will be justifiably concerned that the quality of that product will be similar to the quality of health care that we can expect in the months and years ahead.
§ Mr. Smith
As my hon. Friend says, plastic surgery.
The money that can be made out of health care is not the only issue; the people who run the service are also a matter of concern. We find increasingly that the people who serve on area health authorities have never worked in the national health service, have not devoted their lives to it, do not care about it, and do not know what makes it tick. Increasingly, those serving on health authorities are slick business people who are out to make a quick buck. That is utterly unacceptable.
The Government are successfully attempting to take our democratic process back to basics. They have taken us back to the days when that process had no relevance to the vast majority of people. I do not suggest that the Government intend to abolish the vote in the next few months—even by their standards, that would be going too far—but the result of their policy will be the same.
People will be allowed to participate in the vote for local authorities, but it will be a worthless exercise, because those authorities will no longer have any powers—it will be a charade. Increasingly, powers are being put into the hands of quangos, and of people who are unelected and unaccountable to the local population.
Councillors are often attacked, but the money that councillors receive is nothing compared with the money that some quango members receive. The then Mr. Geoffrey Inkin once fought a parliamentary seat in Ebbw Vale, 1136 which is now part of my constituency. He managed to win about 2,000 votes. When the votes were announced, I thought, "That Mr. Inkin, he's a loser"; but I was wrong and I apologise.
Some years later, although Mr. Inkin had become somewhat disillusioned with the democratic process and elections, he was sympathetic to the idea of appointments. He now works for a few days a week. He receives about £60,000 to £70,000 a year. That is an insult to the people who, at one time, he wanted to represent.
If we go "back to basics", we should go back to the time when we gave our youngsters the opportunity to use their skills and talents: when we said to them that there were opportunities for them if they used the available facilities. We should go "back to basics", to the days when youngsters left school and knew that they were going to gain employment. We should go "back to basics" in terms of how we care for our people in hospitals; we should say to them that we will respond to their health needs, and that the money in their pockets is totally irrelevant.
We should go "back to basics" in our communities. Communities, including my own, which is one of the most famous in western Europe, are now breaking up because of the 10 or 12 or 13 or 15 years of "back to basics" from the Government.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)
I am pleased to have the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) because he presented from his constituency the view of unreconstructed socialism that so many of us on the Conservative Benches recognise. It took me back to my childhood in Tredegar, where there were so many people with the same outlook as the hon. Gentleman running the local councils. Does he recall that, in those days, the level of unemployment in Wales was always higher than the national average? Wales was a country heavily dependent on the old, heavy industries. He will recall that there were coal mines in the area. In fact, my grandfather worked in a coal mine in Tredegar.
As the hon. Gentleman rightly outlined, the aspiration of youngsters in that area was either to work in the pits or to go over to the Ebbw Vale steel works, which was a major employer in the area at that time. He has obviously conveniently forgotten that a substantial rationalisation of the steel industry at Ebbw Vale was subsequently announced by the former Member for Ebbw Vale, his own predecessor Michael Foot. That change was brought about not through wickedness on the part of Michael Foot, but through a recognition that the steel industry was not able to carry on with the high level of manning that had previously been the case. That process of rationalisation has carried on in Wales.
§ Mr. Llew Smith
I certainly do not have a short memory and, because of that, I remember the announcement of job losses in Ebbw Vale. I remember it well, because a few days later it was followed by another announcement that there was to be substantial investment in new factories and developments in the northern part of the constituency. That is what makes that period different from the present period. In the present period, jobs in our community are part-time, low-paid, menial and non-union.
§ Mr. Evans
I also have a reason to remember that announcement because it was the first occasion, and 1137 probably the last occasion, on which I addressed many thousands of people at the Ebbw Vale rugby ground and got an immense cheer for my remarks. If I may say so, on that occasion, the hon. Gentleman and his friends in the local Labour party were not as popular in that constituency as they might have been at the election.
In considering the position of the economy in Wales, it is important to recognise that all is not perfect. We must recognise from where we have come during the 20th century and that is why I referred earlier to the position of the old, heavy industries. A more substantial manufacturing base subsequently developed in Wales. Historically, the former manufacturing base was at the end of the line of industries based in the United Kingdom. When there was recession job losses would always occur first in Wales and that is why we always had levels of unemployment that were significantly higher than the national average.
As the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent accepted, we have had to face rationalisation of those old, heavy industries. We hardly have a deep-mined coal industry left in Wales but, at least, we have a rationalised steel industry, which is at the forefront of competition in Europe. We should recognise and be positive about that instead of adopting the negative approach that we so often hear from the Opposition Benches.
We must also recognise the job that has been done in developing the manufacturing base in Wales and the work of the Welsh Development Agency in that regard. I know that it is the favourite sport of Opposition Members to deride the work of the Welsh Development Agency, but we would do well to recall that there are many thousands of people who are working in Wales today primarily because of the efforts of the Welsh Development Agency.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams
We are concerned about the Welsh Development Agency and the lack of accountability in its structure. Nobody on the Opposition Benches undervalues the work that it has done. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the present reorganisation of the Welsh Development Agency into three regional offices and the closing of the office in Carmarthen will mean the loss of 70 jobs, the loss of 70 key people whose expertise lies in working to develop indigenous industry and to attract inward investment? Is the WDA safe in the Government's hands?
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Gentleman asked three questions. It has been shown in past months that the Welsh Development Agency is a demonstrably more publicly accountable body than many local authorities in Wales and all the people in Wales attach great importance, as we do in the House, to the activities of that body. The Public Accounts Committee demonstrated the accountability of the Welsh Development Agency. If that were not the case, the occasions when it fell short of the standard that we required would not have come into the public domain.
However, I welcome the hon. Gentleman's recognition of the work that has been done by the Welsh Development Agency in the development of industrial opportunities in Wales. Clearly, every organisation must operate according to a specific plan. In those circumstances, my inclination is to give maximum support to the new chairman of the Welsh Development Agency, helped by the recent appointments made to the board which include—there is 1138 silence on the Opposition Benches—George Wright of the Welsh Trades Union Congress and the Transport and General Workers Union. He has agreed to join the board of the WDA, which is carving out the organisation that it requires to take forward the next stage of industrial development.
It is important that we should recognise where the successes have occurred. I am not saying that they are all successes and that we should rest on our laurels, because many concerns have properly been raised by some Opposition Members about sectors in which we need to progress still further. Let us recognise the major achievements in winning new inward investment to Wales. Let us not deride the fact, as some did a few years ago, that we have investment from north America, from Japan and from continental Europe because they do not set a lower standard of wages.
Assessments that have been made of wages paid in many of the new manufacturing plants in Wales show that their levels of pay are in no sense dramatically different from levels of pay in the UK. The overall wage level in Wales is lower than the national average, but that is because of many of the reasons outlined by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) earlier. He said that wages for those who do not own large farms, but for the ordinary family farmer on a small farm in Wales, are about 60 per cent. of national wage rates. Wage rates in indigenous business in Wales are pulling the average down. The new investment from others parts of the world has not reduced wage rates in the Principality.
§ Mr. Ainger
The hon. Gentleman touched on the accountability of the Welsh Development Agency. He claimed that, because the Public Accounts Committee investigated the scandal of more than £1 million of public money which was not being used in the correct manner, the WDA was therefore properly accountable. The Public Accounts Committee became involved because some Members, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), drew the serious allegations and rumours about the Welsh Development Agency to the attention of the Audit Commission. Its proper route of accountability was through the Welsh Office, but under the administration of the Secretary of State's predecessor that Department totally failed to make the WDA accountable. That is why Opposition Members constantly refer to that accountability.
§ Mr. Evans
All public organisations within Wales that are within the remit of the Welsh Office are accountable ultimately to the House. That is the factual and the constitutional position.
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) has not been in Wales quite as long as I have. At the start of my political and legal career in Wales one of the first cases that I dealt with involved corruption on the old Glamorgan county council—supposedly an accountable organisation. It had decided to delegate authority for all planning matters in an area that covered West Glamorgan, Mid Glamorgan and South Glamorgan to one Labour councillor—the chairman of the planning committee, who came from the Rhondda valley. He ended up serving three years in prison, but that does not mean that the system was not accountable. Nor does the example that the hon. Member for Pembroke 1139 gave about the work of the WDA in any way undermine the fact that the agency is accountable to Parliament, as I outlined.
Let me return to the thrust of my argument on the development of the Welsh economy. It is important that we take advantage of some of the positive messages that we have received, for instance from the "Wales 2010" report by the Institute of Welsh Affairs. I drew attention to that report in an intervention as it sets out an important agenda for the future. It suggests that we should aim to become one of the most prosperous regions in Europe and that we should not spend our time looking negatively towards the past but should build on some of our successes—for example, the undoubted growth within the Welsh economy.
During the past 12 months there has been greater growth in the Welsh economy than in the United Kingdom as a whole. The "Wales 2010" report shows that we should be more ambitious and should seek annual growth of up to 4.5 per cent. in Wales. We must also aim to increase the gross domestic product in Wales. That is an agenda that can and must be addressed. It must be our ambition to make Wales one of the most prosperous regions in the United Kingdom. We can do so only by changing attitudes within Wales and that is why I pointed that out to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. I am glad that he dealt with my argument and accepted it.
We need a new spirit of enterprise in Wales, which does not have a great history of entrepreneurial activity. I am pleased that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery at least recognises that it is. important that we develop that spirit in Wales, because the growth and jobs that people and Opposition Members want will result from that sort of entrepreneurial activity. The difference between Opposition Members and Conservative Members is that the former believe that such activity is Government-generated.
We shall change the situation in Wales only by dealing with the concerns outlined by the Institute of 'Welsh Affairs. Yes, we all agree about improving skills and about the importance of achievement for our school children. The Secretary of State for Wales remarked on that recently. However, we should also develop that entrepreneurial spirit. All those issues are of the utmost importance.
The Secretary of State mentioned the roads programme and I welcome his announcement about the Crickhowell bypass. Judging from what he said, he has clearly taken into account the weight of local representation on the subject. I am slightly disappointed that my intervention in my right hon. Friend's speech about traffic-calming measures was treated with derision by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. I do not know whether he has received any representations on the subject from his constituents, but many groups in my constituency strongly believe that traffic is travelling through our towns and villages much too fast and that in the past, sadly, roads policy has not dealt with that problem. The thrust of that policy has been to get traffic moving more quickly from one main centre to another, without dealing with the traffic management problems, such as how one gets traffic through a community other than driving a bypass around it. That is one reason why I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
If derision is the right word, it was for the measures available. Has the hon. Gentleman 1140 observed some of the traffic-calming measures, such as those in the village of Crew Green in my constituency, which are ineffective and almost encourage motorists to accelerate?
§ Mr. Evans
I certainly think that it is an important matter. As I returned to Westminster this week I approached Glangrwny, the most southerly village in my constituency, and saw 37 Welsh Office approved traffic signs within 100 yd, many of which merely tell people to reduce speed. That is not what we mean by traffic-calming measures.
On Saturday I attended a meeting at Llanwrtyd Wells in my constituency—the smallest town in Britain—where the Welsh Office has sponsored serious proposals involving placing gateways across the road to the town. They are interesting and innovative proposals, which I discussed in detail with representatives of the traffic department at the Welsh Office.
Although it is a well-known fact that I do not have the highest opinion of the Welsh Office's previous approach to the roads programme, I was much encouraged by its attitude to that development. I want more developments of that type. That was the essence of my intervention on the Secretary of State. That is why I was surprised at the derision expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, as I thought that he would have welcomed my observation.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister will convey to the Secretary of State my next point. It is perhaps known that a "Panorama" programme revealed that I am one of a group of Members who have asked questions about Government transport policy. However, the Secretary of State's announcement on the roads programme shows that he has carried out the type of review that I have been urging Ministers to undertake nationally. It would be churlish of the House not to recognise that he has dealt with the issue and caused that first review to be undertaken in Wales and he deserves great credit and support. I am happy to convey that to him.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery mentioned agriculture and said that it was the oldest and the largest industry in Wales. I recognise that fact and he knows that our constituencies are not dissimilar in that regard, although he painted an especially bleak picture. As we all recognise, there has been a decline in employment in agriculture since the 1950s. I take some solace from the fact that the number of agricultural holdings has not declined during the past 10 years and that is another factor. Having said that, many of the holdings have become larger, as the hon. and learned Gentleman outlined.
I wonder whether the imaginative and radical solution that he outlined—scrapping the common agricultural policy—is the answer that so many of our constituents want hear. Would they accept that it is uneconomic to farm for profit in many parts of mid-Wales? When the hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the need for diversification it took me back to those days when my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) used to make similar observations, as the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. As I remember, he had a somewhat rougher passage from Liberal Members on those occasions.
This year, income from agriculture is better and it improved last year. Although that was partly helped by what the hon. and learned Gentleman derided as the 1141 accident of black Wednesday—I still refer to it as black Wednesday—many other factors have also led to an improvement in income. Many other factors have led to an improvement in income. One of them was falling interest rates, which has been a great help to the farming industry. We also have seen a significant increase in market prices. That is the truth of the situation.
For those who have them, quotas have buttressed agriculture, in cattle and sheep production, but those who do not have quotas have become involved in a mammoth bureaucratic exercise. Hon. Members who represent completely agricultural constituencies will know what I am talking about.
On several occasions, I have expressed disappointment about at least a few of the recent decisions as they have affected farmers in Wales. I have always made my position clear with regard to the hill livestock compensatory allowance, which is regarded as a central part of support for farmers in Wales. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) will recall that I raised that issue in the Welsh Grand Committee at the sitting before last, so it is some time since the matter arose. I was the first person to be concerned about the issue.
Agriculture has also been buttressed by arable aid. The Secretary of State is aware of my consternation—that is the lightest word that I can use in the circumstances—at the announcement about the arable aid scheme. He wants to sweep away regulation, and I agree with him. In those circumstances, the easiest way to sweep it away is to have an England and Wales region for the scheme. Everyone —even the nationalist party—wants that because it is the way to resolve the matter. To split Wales for the purposes of arable aid on the basis of LFA and non-LFA is deeply damaging to cereal farmers who happen to be within the LFA boundary.
Not many farmers are able to take advantage of the livestock premiums that are available within the LFA. It is no good telling a specialist cereal grower that he is in the LFA and, as a result, is eligible for other premiums because we have introduced a quota system. Unless he was in livestock production in 1991, he will not be able to get his livestock production now and receive those premiums, so that is totally irrelevant.
Another matter of great importance is that cereal producers in less favoured areas form a more substantial group than many would recognise. Only last night, I looked at the statistics published by the Welsh Office, which show that the majority of arable farmers in Wales are based in less favoured areas. There is more arable land in the less favoured areas of Wales than in any other area of Wales. That also underlines their difficult position. We shall have to come back to that issue.
The tourism industry is always important in the rural parts of Wales, and I am pleased that a number of tourists will be attending a Parliament for Wales campaign meeting this weekend, which will be held in Llandrindod Wells in my constituency. [Interruption.] I shall be there, in a sense, as the home Member. I am talking about the tourists from the other parties who will attend the meeting.
When I began my speech, I referred to the way that things used to be in the valleys of Wales. We now know that Labour Members and their friends wish to revisit the 1970s by raising again their ideas about the need for a 1142 democratic Welsh assembly. As Labour Members rightly said from sedentary positions, I intend to attend the meeting for the Parliament for Wales campaign. However, I intend to do so because I think that I will be virtually the only person present who was among the 83 per cent. of the people in Wales who voted against the setting up of a Welsh assembly on the last occasion.
I point out to those people—so many of them are on the Opposition Benches—who talk about a democratic deficit in Wales that the people of Wales have been given an opportunity to speak on this issue. They spoke resoundingly in a way that Labour Members did not like, so Labour Members decided that in the future the people of Wales would not be given a vote on it at all because they could not be trusted on the issue. If one reads the statements made subsequently by the protagonists for a Welsh assembly, one will see that the elitism is evident among those sitting on the Opposition Benches rather than among those sitting on the Government Benches. Labour Members spoke of people who had rejected the advice of the intelligentsia in Wales. I am sorry that so many people in the Labour party, churches, universities and so on believe that in some way the lot of the people in Wales could be advantaged by setting up a separatist assembly.
When I was first elected to the House and made my maiden speech, I made it clear that for all the time that I am here I am determined that Wales will remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. The Parliament for Wales campaign is a wedge to take us down the road to separatism. We can say that loudly with a certain knowledge that the people of Wales, when asked to judge this issue, agreed with us, not them.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), despite his final remarks, because he is a lively contributor to debates. I find it easy to listen to and disagree with him. His speech was in marked contrast to the earlier contribution from the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards). Perhaps some time later this evening or next week, I hope that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor will have a few words with the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West in terms of demeaning the House and Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman put her in a very difficult position. I do not know what he had in mind when he made his wild allegations about whoever he saw at that moment. It was a pleasure to listen to the regional speech of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor.
The Secretary of State made a statement on the roads programme. Although I expressed some pleasure that the Whitland bypass was to go ahead, in an intervention I asked the right hon. Gentleman for an assurance about the Carmarthen eastern bypass. We have been waiting for that bypass for the past 20 years. There is appalling congestion in Carmarthen town throughout the year. It is especially horrific in the tourist season, but I can promise that we have appalling congestion problems in the rush hour, at 4 o'clock and 5 o'clock in the evenings and on Wednesdays when there is a market in town. I want that bypass to go ahead with the utmost urgency, as do the people of Carmarthen. I got a reasonable assurance from the Secretary of State, but I hope that the bypass will go ahead and the Government will stick to the timetable.
1143 The map of Wales that was circulated as part of the announcement shows that there is a large empty area where there appears to be no roads at all. That is north of Carmarthen, between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. There seems to be a void where one must imagine that there is an enormous mountain range which we cannot cross. Indeed, that is good agricultural land.
Unfortunately, the road links north of Carmarthen to Llanybyther, Newcastle Emlyn and up towards Aberystwyth should be one of the strategic routes. Dyfed county council believes that the northern links are extremely important and I hope that the eastern bypass will go ahead. We see that bypass as the first stage of a major development programme of our northern links.
I shall make most of my remarks about a Welsh assembly and the proposed forum on which there have been some developments this week. In contrast to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor, I have always been a firm believer in the need for some devolution of power away from London to all the regions of Britain. In the referendum on St. David's day in 1979, I worked hard for the yes campaign and it was a deep disappointment when the vote went substantially the other way.
The hon. Gentleman did not recognise, however, that there has been a fundamental change in public opinion in Wales during the past 15 years. We have endured 15 years of Conservative Government that have gone absolutely against the grain of all the people of Wales. That change of opinion applies also within the Labour party in Wales at local government and parliamentary level and among our supporters. Where once the Labour party looked on an assembly as a concession to nationalism, we now see an assembly in a different light, a Labour-controlled bulwark against the excesses of any future Conservative Government.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones)
The hon. Gentleman suggests that there has been a change of opinion on the subject of a regional assembly for Wales. How can he demonstrate that that is the case? If he is so confident that there has been a change of opinion, why is he determined to refuse to give the people of Wales a say on the matter?
§ Mr. Williams
An opinion poll conducted by BBC Wales has been referred to this evening, but I do not know whether the question was put in that poll. [HON. MEMBERS: "It was."] I am told that the question was included.
§ Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen)
I was one of those who, in 1978–79, opposed the setting up of a Welsh assembly. Like my hon. Friend, I realise that there has been a massive change of opinion in Wales, largely as a consequence of 15 years of a Government who were not elected by the Welsh people. The opinion poll run by the BBC showed that 45 per cent. of the Welsh people were in favour of an elected assembly, 22 per cent. were against and 33 per cent. did not know but were likely to support the idea of an assembly.
§ Mr. Williams
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who beautifully answered the point made by the Minister. As I interpret those figures, there is a 2:1 majority in favour of a Welsh assembly.
§ Mr. Williams
The Labour party will contest the next election, as we did at the previous election, by being firmly committed to the setting up of a Welsh assembly. Hon. Members may cast their minds back to the general election, where 72 per cent. of the people of Wales voted for parties that wanted a Welsh assembly.
If the Minister wants government by referendums, why do the Government not offer the people of Britain a referendum on their tax policies or, better still, call a general election? We see the matters as being resolved at the next general election, when our policy will be to set up assemblies for Scotland and for Wales in the first year in power. We need an assembly to democratise the work of the Welsh office, and to take over its role in education, highways, health and the Welsh Development Agency. The assembly would run Wales, not by quango, but with elected and accountable local people.
There is to be a rally in Newport called "Forward to Victory", which will launch our European election campaign. There will be four main themes at the rally—the government of Wales, the health service, unemployment and the place of women in Europe. We will have a resounding rally with many good speakers. We know that there is a rival event at Llandrindod, which has been organised by the Parliament for Wales campaign. My view is that if we want an assembly or a regional tier of government in Wales, the only way to achieve that is by electing a Labour Government. All my energies in that regard will be channelled via the Labour party.
Earlier, we debated the setting up of an interim measure until we get a Labour Government and an assembly. The interim measure would set up a forum to receive reports back from the Committee of the Regions, and other matters. Unfortunately, the origin of the proposal which the Secretary of State has made is shrouded in mystery and is highly undemocratic. It came out of that dirty deal last year over the Maastricht treaty where, to win the support of nationalist Members, the Government agreed to establish a forum not only of council representatives but of the European Parliament.
§ Mr. Llwyd
Does the hon. Gentleman realise exactly why the Committee of the Regions is being set up? It will deal with regional policies and structures, and so forth. Those matters are frankly beyond the competence of people in local government, and I mean competence in the strictest terms. That is the point I am getting at.
§ Mr. Williams
I will come back to that point in my own way in a minute, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me. The Labour party supports in principle the establishment of an interim forum, but that forum must be acceptable to our county councils and district councils, and it must have transparent accountability and democracy. At the moment, the Assembly of Welsh Counties and the Council of Welsh Districts are two all-Wales forums in existence.
We propose the development and the merger of those organisations as the unitary authorities are set up. There should then be a council for Wales, based on the principle of one member of the council per 100,000 people in each 1145 of the unitary authorities. That would make a total of 41 members representing all the new unitary authorities in Wales and would give a neat structure for the council, or Cyngor Cymru.
The council need not meet just four times a year, and it would not just take reports from the representatives of the Committee of the Regions. In a sense, it would inherit the work which is now done by the Assembly of Welsh Counties and the Council of Welsh Districts, and the bodies would evolve naturally into the council for Wales.
I will answer the point made by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). It is absurd that Members of Parliament will serve on the body to which he refers. Our job is here at Westminster, and I find that I have quite enough work with a constituency to look after and my work in London. The last thing I want is a third part of my job based in Cardiff.
I read carefully a press release from the nationalist party last Monday, in which they referred to Bavaria and Catalonia as having their own Parliaments and members of the Committee of the Regions, who then report back to their Parliaments. There was no mention of having Members of Parliament from Berlin or Madrid also taking part in the discussions.
The arrangement which the nationalist party is trying to foist on the Government, and which the Government are reluctantly willing to accept, would be unprecedented in Europe. No region in Britain would have such an arrangement. No region in Europe would have such a report-back mechanism. I take rather harshly the doubts that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy expressed about the competence of local government representatives.
§ Mr. Williams
I am sorry. I accept that. It was a misinterpretation on my part. The hon. Gentleman is a lawyer and he should not use technical legal language on a scientist. The legal meaning of the word is different from the colloquial meaning.
In Wales, despite the comments of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West, we have elected councillors. They are people of the people who know about their local area and have long experience, much longer than most Members of Parliament, of the affairs of local government. They work in Wales. They live in Wales. They travel across Wales. Members of the Council of Welsh Districts and of the Assembly of Welsh Counties criss-cross Wales in a way that ordinary Members of Parliament do not.
Elected councillors know the towns, the industries, the infrastructure and the roads of Wales and the highway problems that we have. They know where people work. They know our problems much better than the average Member of Parliament because our main job is naturally in Westminster. It is my firm conviction that local councillors know best what is needed in terms of advice to the Committee of the Regions.
If we set up the new body, it should, of course, appoint its three representatives on the Committee of the Regions. They would be accountable to the council. It is a curious structure in which the appointment is made by the 1146 Secretary of State and the accountability is to an amorphous body that is not democratic. The Labour party and I see the new arrangement as an interim measure.
§ Mr. Murphy
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene a second time. He is, of course, aware that of the three representatives of Wales on the Committee of the Regions, the only one who is directly elected is our Labour representative.
§ Mr. Williams
Absolutely. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. It is an appalling commentary on the structure of government in Wales that the Secretary of State has the power to make nominations and has nominated a Conservative Member of the House of Lords. No one knows him in Wales. He has no reputation. The third member of the committee comes from a party that has only 8 per cent. of the support—
§ Mr. Williams
As it happens. But he comes from a political party that has only 8 per cent. of political support in Wales.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans
The hon. Gentleman has derided the Conservative representative and the Plaid Cymru representative. Does he believe that all the representatives should be members of the Labour party? Is that his case?
§ Mr. Williams
No. We are willing to set up a mechanism that would ensure that the three representatives on the Committee of the Regions accurately reflected political opinion in Wales. We could build such a mechanism into the structure of the election of the representatives.
The interim measure may last only three or four years.
§ Mr. Murphy
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way a third time. We ought to put on record what we mean by direct representation. We are not talking about the fact that the three representatives on the European Committee are elected to their ward as councillors. We are saying that the Labour party representative was directly elected by all the Labour councillors in Wales, whether county or district councillors.
§ Mr. Williams
Absolutely. I am grateful once again to my hon. Friend. I hope that when the Secretary of State reflects during the next few weeks on the comments that have been made about the forum, particularly in the early part of the debate, and receives representatives from the Assembly of Welsh Counties and the Council of Welsh Districts, he will decide that the Labour party's proposal goes with the grain of Welsh local government and makes much more sense in the European context; otherwise, the new body that will be set up will be an unusual, very odd body.
The forum will have an interim existence because the Labour party wants a Welsh assembly. The people of Wales want a Welsh assembly with real powers, not just influence. The forum of Welsh counties will have some influence, but we want a body that is democratically elected, with real powers to administer the whole budget of the Welsh Office—that £6 billion—to take charge of the health service, the education system and the infrastructure in Wales and the Welsh Development Agency. Some comments were made earlier about the problems of the 1147 Welsh Development Agency and its lack of accountability. The WDA should be directly accountable. It should be part of the Welsh assembly.
My time scale for setting up an assembly is as follows. If we have our general election in 1996, in the first year of a Labour Government—1997–98—we will introduce the legislation. We could have elections to the regional assembly in 1999. As we turn into the new century, we will have a structure of government in Wales befitting of the 21st century.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
The past 12 months have allowed us to try to get to know the Secretary of State a little better. I have to confess that I did not know much about him. I think that some of my hon. Friends suffered from the same ignorance. We did not know what made the new Secretary of State tick. At least in the past 12 months we have had a chance to take a closer look.
I agree with those of my hon. Friends who observed that we have probably for the first time a Secretary of State who at least has agendas. That has become clear. He has an agenda that might have something to do with Welsh needs and an agenda within the Conservative party. The second agenda is one for him, except where it might become inimical to or in conflict with the interests of Welsh people and Welsh needs. At least we can offer him some advice as he proceeds on his second agenda.
I draw to the Secretary of State's attention an observation once made by Mr. Harold Macmillan. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is not of the same persuasion or tendency, or perhaps even of the same party as Mr. Harold Macmillan. Nevertheless, it might be worth his remembering a remark made by the former Prime Minister and great Tory leader. He once said that the Cabinet was a prison without bars. The Secretary of State has begun to find in some of his attitudes and in his approach to the issues that he has raised in the past 12 months that the Cabinet has been a bit of a prison.
At least the Secretary of State is a quick learner. He has picked up one or two Welsh habits, one of which is a. belief in crusades. The Welsh have always had a strong belief in evangelical crusades. Recent press releases have been headed:Redwood calls for a crusade to set the best education standards".Then the Secretary of State wished to lead a crusade through all the corners of the Welsh health service. So the right hon. Gentleman is following a good Welsh tradition in backing or being part of a great crusade.
The crusade on health launched by the Secretary of State was the first in Welsh history to begin with an apology, after he had made an interesting statement. It began:1 am a child of the National Health Service".He then found that he had ruffled the feathers of the Secretary of State for Health, who did not like his statement. So we had a sort of apology.
I was more interested and more pleased in some respects that the Secretary of State appeared to take some of his ideas forward, unlike the Under-Secretary of State who, when I asked him how much progress was being made on the health crusade, took a month to reply. He gave a list similar to those that we have had many times in the past 12 months about so-called successes in the health service. At 1148 least this time the right hon. Gentleman appeared to take some of the ideas in his original statement about being a child of the national health service further forward. I hope that he pursues some of those targets and observations.
My family has a long tradition of nurses and sisters in the health service. The scrapping of sisters and matrons, who form the core of the health service, was a bad move as they were some of the best audit officers, with real responsibility for the running of wards. They were prudent about the resources available. It was not a creation of the Labour party which led to managerial problems and the present position where managers and contracts are discussed more than service to patients. We need to redress all the mechanisms that were set up to try to create a new internal market but which led to a great increase in salaries and numbers of managerial staff. Let us get back to the concept of a service and we shall not go far wrong.
I agree with the Secretary of State when he said:Nor should the health service be too ready to want to destroy all the great old hospitals of Wales… it is not always the right thing to do to seek to build on a green field site and bulldoze the existing onewhich has support and affection in the community. I hope that we shall see the practical application of those remarks. If the Mid-Glamorgan health authority ever proposes a plan to vandalise the health service in our community by closing Mardy hospital in my area or Mountain Ash hospital in the area of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), I hope that the Secretary of State will stand by those principles rather than the consequences of some of the health proposals that have been put to us, often in the name of so-called efficiency and internal market changes.
§ Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)
Will my hon. Friend extend his plea to the Secretary of State to look also at the venerable institutions in South Glamorgan, for example Cardiff royal infirmary? Old hospitals that have served the community well have not necessarily come to the end of their time.
§ Mr. Rowlands
My hon. Friend makes his point forcefully. Like all good crusades, we have a good text from which to work. I hope that my hon. Friend will invoke the text that I have drawn to his attention. He might also invoke the next part of that text, when the Secretary of State went on to say:Nor will I be very pleased if the search for economies begins and ends with the search for ward closures.That is exactly what has been happening in the past couple of years. Searches for economies have been about ward closures and reducing services and not about employing trained and skilled nurses. That is what has gone wrong. I hope that there will be a reversal not of some historic policy but of recent Government policy, the consequences of which the Secretary of State describes vividly and, quite rightly, pejoratively. I hope that the text of the crusade will be implemented in practical decision making.
§ Mr. Ainger
Is my hon. Friend aware that the recent minutes of the Pembrokeshire health trust contain a statement by a senior trust executive that, as the provider of health care in Pembrokeshire, the trust should be careful not to exceed the number of patients it is contracted to treat with Pembrokeshire health authority? In other words, if one more patient than the number in the contract is treated, more money will be demanded.
§ Mr. Rowlands
My hon. Friend draws attention to one of the most insidious developments in the health service. As a result of contracts and strict budgets, there is now a real danger that the treatment of people will not be undertaken or will be questioned because it does not fall within the budget. I am presently locked in negotiation on an extremely serious case, the details of which I shall not go into on the Floor of the House, but it illustrates my hon. Friend's point. We are already seeing signs of an extremely worrying trend—decisions on medical care, for example, whether to operate, being made according to the budgetary position at any given time of a hospital or district unit. That fundamentally undermines and destroys the principle of a national health service.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I agree with my hon. Friend. We must be careful not to lose the fundamental principles attached to the national health service. That is a "back to basics" policy which we want to maintain.
May I direct my central remarks to the economic, industrial and employment position of communities such as the one that I represent? Before the Minister puts on the same old record and says that we are trying to run down our communities by drawing attention to our present problems, may I say that I am excited by many of the infrastructural changes that are taking place in my community. Those include the largest land reclamation scheme; a road programme; urban investment; and, I hope, an accelerated improvement in the A465. I do not regard Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney as threatened by the M4 corridor. It could be an M4 society in the sense that we can reach the M4 as well as the midlands and the north, by the road network. We can go east, west, north or south as a result of our road infrastructure, which I hope will be completed in the next few years. As a result of those infrastructural changes, we have the potential to remove our historic inhibitions to development. The questions of environment and roads communication are both being dealt with fundamentally, so I have no argument about that.
The fact that is now emerging is that infrastructure alone will not be enough. The work that I have been doing recently on the history of the 1930s to 1950s revealed that one of the lessons to learn is that, even if one has invested in infrastructure, it is not sufficient of itself. Sadly, the figures that are emerging have demonstrated that point all too forcefully.
I am frightened and shaken by the figures from censuses of employment and the official census of the past 18 months to two years. May I describe what they have meant for Merthyr borough? In 1981, which was not a good year for us as it was the first recession, 20,800 people were in employment in Merthyr borough; 13,100 of those were men, of which 400 were part time; and 7,700 women were in employment, of which 3,200 were part time. The figures reveal that, one decade later, only 16,700 people were in employment, of which only 8,700 were men. That is in a borough of more than 60,000 inhabitants which was the centre of the first industrial revolution. The 16,700 comprises a 50:50 ratio of men to women. Of those 16,700 —including the 8,000 women—4,100 or half are part-time, poorly paid employees. That is the present-day 1991 1150 employment base of a borough and a constituency of the character of Merthyr Tydfil. It is not just frightening, it is wicked; it really does require attention.
Our largest employers are public administration and health, which are the newest Government targets. In addition to the fact that our employment base has shrunk, the largest part of what remains is the target of the Government's major new attack and shake up.
I did not come here to preach gloom and doom, but to present the problems and the issues. Irrespective of how it was caused and who caused it, let us examine the consequences of such a fundamental shift in the basis of our local economy and society.
The jobs in our community partly determine its character. They create the distinctive character of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. When a community loses jobs on the scale and of the character that we have lost jobs in the past decade, there are bound to be consequences which neither the Government nor any of us have wholly addressed.
I shall tread on dangerous ground, so I choose my words carefully. I believe that one of the consequences is the enormous shift from full-time, predominantly male jobs to part-time, women's jobs within a community such as mine. In no way do I express what everybody believes to be a historic old male chauvinist attitude. I do not represent such an attitude, but I believe that tremendous consequences flow from shifts of such character in a short time.
Everybody in the House—certainly those who know our community well—will recognise the role that Mum played in the nature of the social fabric. The personal, familiar nature of society was part of the distinctive character of our community. Much of the internal family and community discipline arose not from men, but from women. It was mother, as much as anybody, who drove me to do my homework or insisted that members of the family took piano lessons and practised. A tremendous feature of the community and society was the role played by natural internal discipline.
If, as the figures show, the nature of society shifts and changes, consequences will follow. There is no way—and rightly so—that women in the 1990s will play the same role as they did in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. They do not want to do it for two reasons. First, it was not a liberating role in many respects; and, secondly, they cannot do it because they as much as anybody are propping up the local economy in terms of jobs. Some 50 per cent. of jobs in communities such as ours are now employing women.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson
Does it not have the further consequence of totally demotivating young male teenagers in terms of their future?
§ Mr. Rowlands
My hon. Friend anticipates my conclusion. I do not believe that anybody listening to my remarks thinks that I am blaming women for the problems in society. Of course we do not.
No one expects women in the 1990s to play the historic role that women played in our communities. However, we have to admit that that has happened and is happening. The decline in the number of jobs and the idea of work reduces the independence and dignity that comes from having a job and the shrinking of that potential which represented other sets of values.
The Secretary of State should not look for easy scapegoats and symptoms in single parents or anything 1151 else, but should instead try to address the deeper shifts in social attitudes in society. If I had an answer to that conundrum, I should be Prime Minister, or at least Secretary of State for Wales. I do not have an easy answer and I do not think that there is any single answer. Househusbandry has not yet caught on in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney or across the valleys—certainly not in any meaningful timescale.
We have to address the issues and find other ways to resolve the social consequences that flow from such a fundamental and fairly dramatic short-term change in many of our communities.
I have only two fundamental suggestions. First—I have been coming here for 25 years to argue this case and I shall continue to do so—jobs are at the centre of the solution. If we recreate jobs, we raise expectations. The prospect of the job has an amazing stabilising effect; it creates all sorts of values.
The great difference between the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s was the decasualisation of work. The creation for the first time of reasonable expectations of employment created a more socially stable and independent society—more independent of Government than ever before.
In a curious way, Thatcherism has created greater dependency on Government in the 1990s in communities such as mine. I do not want to come to the House and talk about clawing back benefits, or about fighting for invalidity benefit or any other benefit. We have subsidies here and there, but if we create jobs we can do away with that dependency.
We become dependent on Government, but some Governments, when it suits them or when they have to, take away certain props from the communities. The current Social Security Bill is doing that now, with a rather dramatic and immediate effect on purchasing power in communities such as ours. We do not want the dependency that has been created by the destruction of jobs and the erosion of the jobs base in many of our communities.
I follow everything that the Secretary of State has said and done and I have become a connoisseur of his statements and speeches. I have noticed that he frequently says that we need more jobs. We shall do everything we can to help, but the right hon. Gentleman has to go away and get those jobs—and quickly. He was not here when I quoted the figures on the shrinking labour force in my community, but I hope that he will hear them from his right hon. Friend.
Secondly, the solution lies in training and education. At the eleventh hour the Government have been trying to rescue training from a deadly decade when, in the eyes of many people—especially the young—it represented nothing more than income support and bus fares. At last, we are beginning to reconsider the concept of modern apprenticeships and manufacturing. It is a good sign, but it is a very late conversion.
For too long, the Government have spent a great deal of money on substitutes for proper training to take more people from the dole queue—what in the 1930s were called palliatives. We have had many palliatives until, late in the day, there has been a conversion.
I think that there has been a conversion, but it has not yet been seen in the approach to education. On education policy, the right hon. Gentleman should cut the umbilical cord with Whitehall and the Department for Education. For 15 years, we have watched education policy be determined by a Government with a bilious, prejudiced and ideological 1152 view of what has happened in parts of inner London and other cities. It has had virtually no relevance to the educational arguments of Wales. Although the right hon. Gentleman has tried once or twice to defend corners, he failed rather sadly in defending us against most of the nonsense of their policy. Many of the same arguments and solutions have been peddled. Scotland might have survived this, but we have not.
There are two areas in which the umbilical cord should be cut. First, the Minister should stop arguing about grant-maintained schools. They have not caught on in our communities. We do not want to create a competitive education system. It does not make much sense. Most parents and children believe that there is one school to go to; they want to make that school better. Parents do not want to set one school against another. Let us return to the principle. Now, with the idea of unitary authorities, there is an ideal opportunity to create a community education system based on unitary authorities, which the right hon. Gentleman will introduce in his Bill—with some changes, I hope. From that unitary authority basis, Ministers should build on the concept of community education. Schools should not compete with colleges, or with other schools. We are ending up with schools spending money to try to compete with each other—tool up here, tool up there—and not produce, particularly in technical education, one decent centre of excellence of character of which the right hon. Gentleman speaks so much. I have told him that he should abandon the rigid national curriculum and develop vocational education.
Two years ago, I made a speech in the Welsh Grand Committee, pleading with the Government not to impose a rigid national curriculum and to go for technical vocational education from age 15, not 16 or 17, because sixth forms are no longer like the comprehensives of the past 25 or 30 years. As youngsters stay on in school longer, sixth forms are now trying to play multi-purpose roles.
An opportunity exists now to transform technical vocational education, as a distinctive alternative route, with an alternative qualification to GCSEs, of the sort that was such a feature of the training vocational system of the 1950s and 1960s, developed primarily by the great nationalised industries—the coal board, electricity, water and other major companies. That has collapsed in the past decade and we have had to look for alternatives. Among the suggestions could be the regeneration of communities such as mine. But given what has happened in the past decade in terms of numbers of jobs, and the shift in the nature of work in the community that I represent, we are at the eleventh hour. I hope that the Secretary of State will listen and heed the voice of our communities.
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
The debate has been interesting and I have enjoyed many of the contributions, particularly from the Opposition side of the House. It is my heartfelt and sincere view that we in Wales have consistently been marginalised by this Parliament for far too long. This is the annual Welsh debate, and Welsh Members of Parliament are supposed to debate matters of considerable importance to us and our constituents in this single debate. The Welsh Grand Committee sits from time to time as a forum of debate, but it has no teeth whatever 1153 and is normally a platform or an opportunity for the Secretary of State to make press releases detailing his latest largesse.
It would be churlish of me not to say that I welcome the announcement today about the road structure in Wales. I welcome it unreservedly, but I respectfully remind the Secretary of State that I hope that the A470 could be accelerated—I am sorry to use that word—in as reasonable a manner as possible, because it is vitally important, especially in the light of the closure of Trawsfynydd which, in fairness, the Secretary of State mentioned.
I understand that the Secretary of State for Scotland recently introduced some plans to strengthen the role of the Scottish Grand Committee. He says that it should deal with exclusively Scottish legislation and various other pointers that would strengthen the Committee and make it more viable and, indeed, give it real purpose. Unfortunately, so far as I know, there are no plans in the Welsh Office for that to be done with the Welsh Grand Committee. I refer to what the right hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. David Hunt), the previous Secretary of State, said during the debate on the structure of government in Wales on 8 March 1993 in Cardiff:As Secretary of State, I make it clear that I regard this as a vital, continuing debate. I look forward to hearing Members of the Committee tell us how they would like the Committee's role and influence to be strengthened.What was vital to the then Secretary of State is not even on the current incumbent's agenda. That is disappointing and frustrating.
The so-called democratic deficit in Wales has already been mentioned, and it really is a deficit. Indeed, I would go further than that and say that it is a huge abyss. If the present structures are to retain even a veneer of respect and credibility, Welsh Members' powers of scrutiny need to be overhauled by revamping the Committee or even transferring its role and incorporating it into the all-Wales forum.
We have heard much about the way in which the all-Wales forum has been set up. I shall not go into its history, but for the first time ever in the history of Wales an all-Wales body would meet on Welsh soil to discuss Welsh government issues, and representatives of all the tiers of government in Wales would meet in one chamber to discuss and debate. It will have representatives of local government, county and district, Members of the European Parliament, Members of this House and members of the Committee of the Regions. I sincerely believe that it will be a true and real opportunity which all democrats should grasp immediately.
§ Mr. Ron Davies
May I put one problem to the hon. Gentleman? I have followed with interest the case that he is developing, but he will know that it is the view of many Opposition Members that the Welsh Grand Committee should be empowered to take legislation through the House which specifically affects Wales. I ask him to cast his mind back to this time last year when he joined us in the Lobby opposing the repeal of Standing Order No. 86 because we wanted the Welsh Language Bill, for example, to be taken in the Welsh Grand Committee. If what he is proposing comes about and the Welsh Grand Committee is subsumed into a local government structure, surely we will lose not only that opportunity, but others in which to scrutinise in this place the working of the Welsh Office.
§ Mr. Llwyd
I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I did say "either/or". I said that the first premise was to strengthen the Welsh Grand Committee in terms of what has been proposed in Scotland, which in effect would give the Welsh Grand Committee an opportunity to deal with exclusively Welsh legislation. I then went on to develop the theme of a possibility of the forum becoming involved. It is an alternative, but I take on board what the hon. Gentleman says and I understand the point that he makes. I have to say genuinely and sincerely, however, that the Labour party's stance on this is mistaken.
It is clear that the Committee of the Regions will deal with regional, structural issues—transport links, broad structural funding and larger issues. Such issues are beyond the everyday competence—if I may use the word again—of local councils, even before the new Bill slashes them further, denuding them of their powers and obligations.
I plead with Opposition Members to reconsider the position. I do not think that history will record who initiated action, or how it was initiated; what it should record, in due course, is the establishment of a forum representing the opinions of all tiers of Welsh representation. We should grasp this opportunity. I am sure that the shadow Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies)—is in favour of a powerful Welsh assembly; he is entirely sincere in that regard. The forum, however, would give us a form of assembly pro tem, although it would be a poor substitute for the proper Parliament with full legislative and tax-raising powers that my party wants.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams
I accept that the hon. Gentleman sees the forum as an interim measure, but he has questioned the competence of those involved in local government. Does he envisage interference by Members of Parliament in the relationship between the Committee of the Regions and the Welsh assembly, when it is eventually established?
§ Mr. Llwyd
I know that the hon. Gentleman has a PhD. I am not sure what kind of PhD he has, but it is certainly not in linguistics.
Let me make one point clear for the third and, I hope, final time. I have no pencil with me, but I will try to spell out what I mean by "beyond the competence of local government". I am trying to say that councillors do not deal with regional policy; they do not deal with Interreg funds, objective 3 and 2B5 status, and so on. The point is that the Committee of the Regions will deal with such matters.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams
My question was this: does the hon. Gentleman envisage Members of Parliament being involved in the Welsh assembly's relationship with the Committee of the Regions, when we have such an assembly?
§ Mr. Llwyd
As far as I am concerned, the Welsh assembly is just a milestone on the road. I want a full Welsh Parliament, and I have not even given the assembly much thought. I understand that the Labour party is in favour of an assembly without tax-raising or legislative powers. I wonder what it will do to keep anyone there, let alone Members of Parliament. Clearly, however, the assembly would be a step in the right direction, and provide an opportunity to scrutinise the disgraceful position that 1155 now exists in Wales, where all these quasi-autonomous non-governmental bodies are ripping us off day after day. I seem to have got away with using a certain phrase; it did not work this afternoon.
On a more serious note, the forum and/or strengthened Welsh Grand Committee would be a poor substitute for a Welsh Parliament. I believe that the denial of the democratic right of the people of Wales to self-determination is holding the nation back. That affects all of us, day after day. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tyclfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who speaks about his area with great authority, stressed our current very worrying employment position. There is long-term unemployment, and young people have not a hope in hell of finding jobs owing to the underfunding of various courses. Even if they are given places on such courses, what are they to do next? That is just one of the serious problems that exist not just in Merthyr, but throughout Wales.
I am afraid that we have a Secretary of State who is not interested in Wales: that is the real problem. I was interested by a press release issued in the last fortnight by a Conservative hopeful in connection with the forthcoming Euro-elections, headedJohn Redwood speaks to packed lunch at Haverfordwest".I believe that the words "and the lettuce curled" appeared in brackets, although I am not sure whether that is entirely true. Can it be that, at last, the Secretary of State has found a captive audience in Wales? Or is the job getting the better of him? I am not sure which it is, but no doubt time will tell.
I mentioned earlier that the people of Wales were suffering as a direct result of Westminster misrule. Nowhere is that more evident than in the crisis currently facing our police forces. They are highly trained and motivated, but they cannot beat the crime wave without the resources that they need. My area—the North Wales police area—has an excellent force, but for years that force has been seriously undermanned. For years it has applied to the Home Secretary for an increse in its staff complement. It is currently undermanned by 70 officers, and has been for more than five years. The Home Office, however, refused point blank to sanction the employment of one new officer. What kind of Government do that? What message does that send to the public in an area of north Wales where crime is soaring?
The message is clear: the Home Office has other priorities and interests. The interests of Wales are—to put it succinctly—peripheral. The situation is critical in south Wales: police stations are being shut and police cars left in garages because they are damaged and there is no money to repair them or even, in some cases, to put petrol in them. I do not think that the Home Office has offered any help, and I think that it is unlikely to do so. The best that it can do is to blame local government—in accordance with the Government's hidden agenda, which will be evidenced in the Welsh local government reorganisation Bill.
I believe that the Welsh public are now concluding that the only way out of the conundrum is to campaign for a Welsh Parliament. Would such a Parliament starve that most basic and necessary service, the police, of the funds and resources that it requires? I do not think so. I believe that, for the time being, responsibility for Welsh policing should devolve to the Welsh Office; otherwise we shall continue to stand at the end of the Home Office queue with our empty begging bowl. The Government have a serious responsibility which, unfortunately, they are shirking. The 1156 blame for inadequate policing in Wales lies wholly and directly with the Home Office. That is unnacceptable and I believe that the people of Wales will signal their disapproval and frustration at the next available opportunity—the local and European elections in June.
The Conservatives' standing in Wales has never been lower, which is entirely understandable. We in Wales have great respect for law and order, but it is disgraceful that large parts of Wales must be policed by neighbourhood watch schemes. Welcome though such schemes are, they would not be necessary if the service was adequately funded. Our communities are in crisis: housing waiting lists are unacceptably high, and ever rising. I ask again: would a Welsh Parliament assign to housing such a low priority as is assigned by the Government? I do not think so.
I am appalled to think of the number of people on housing waiting lists in Wales. Some are on those lists for years on end, denied the basic requirement of life—a roof over their heads. What kind of Government sanction such an anti-social policy?
§ Mr. Llwyd
Quite so. Why should people be sleeping rough on the streets of Cardiff and Swansea? The answer is clear: a Welsh Parliament would not allow it. We have a better set of principles. I do not want to go "back to basics", or we shall become embroiled in a laughing match, but I think that we think more about our people and have more respect for our fellow men than is evinced by the Government.
What of those other obvious facets of a community in crisis—unemployment and lack of youth training? I shall not dwell over-long on that subject because the problem was eloquently described by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. Every civilised society must aim for full employment, although perhaps it is unattainable. That should be the aim of any civilised society because chronic unemployment brings with it a plethora of social problems. Among the most serious are high anxiety levels and sickness, low morale, low self-esteem and, unfortunately, crime. Although I do not subscribe to the view that unemployment per se is directly responsible for crime, it would nevertheless be idle to ignore the fact that it is a major constituent in the formula.
What advice does one give a young person who has been unemployed for five years or, as is often the case in many areas in my constituency, even seven or eight years, ever since leaving school? What incentives are there for him or her? In the absence of training schemes, that is worrying, but even when there are training schemes in areas such as my constituency, young people feel that it is almost a waste of time to go on them because they will not lead to employment.
Steeped as we are, in Wales, in the work ethic, historically and traditionally, I cannot believe that a Welsh Parliament would attach such minimal priority to employment and training. The answer for the people of Wales is obvious once again. I was speaking with a Trades Union Congress official last night who argued that, unless the Government wake up to the fact, in 10 years we shall be left way behind virtually the whole of the developed world, simply because nothing is being spent, in real terms, on employment and training. It is all very well bowing our heads and saying, "We are spending such and such". We 1157 are not spending anything like the amount that we should be spending. Everyone who has ever considered the situation realises that. We shall end up in 20 years' time with an undisciplined society and in a situation in which we are virtually competing with third-world countries, directly because of the unenlightened stance of the Government.
Agriculture is still a major source of employment in Wales. The traditional Welsh hill farm has both kept the fabric of rural society together and proven to be a guardian of the Welsh hills and the precious environment, but the Government have set their face against the agriculture industry. I see the Secretary of State grimacing. He may be grimacing even more in a minute.
§ Mr. Llwyd
If evidence were required, we need only consider three or four recent moves by the Government. The cuts in the hill livestock compensatory allowances will affect upland families very badly. I acknowledge that there has been an improvement in farm incomes during the past 12 months, but we must consider that improvement in the correct perspective.
First, the improvement came about due to some market changes and, which is more likely, as a result of the green pound devaluation. Secondly—this is vital—the improvement came after eight or 10 years of regularly decreasing income, so the improvement is from a very low base. Therefore, let us not delude ourselves by saying that the cuts will not hurt. In the next 12 months, the full force of the cuts will be felt. Many farmers used their HLCA payments to pay for wintering their sheep. HLCA payments exist to assist them because it is a difficult region in which to "produce the goods". However, the cost of wintering increases regularly and the HLCA has now suffered two savage cuts. Inevitably, there will be a great deal of hardship in the next 12 months and it will badly hit some areas such as my constituency of Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, where one family in five relies directly or indirectly on agriculture.
What the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) said is all very well, but I note in passing that not one Conservative Back Bencher is in his place. That shows the real priority—[Interruption.] Not one Conservative Back Bencher from Wales is in his place; yet this is the annual Welsh debate.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) will have noticed that he is only a quarter of his party here this evening.
§ Mr. Llwyd
Yes. My mathematics are not very good —he is only a sixth. Despite the obvious gravitas, he is only a sixth of his Welsh party. Anyway, I shall not get embroiled in this or I shall be mimicking, dare I say it, the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards).
The farm conservation grants scheme was recently cut. That cut will bite hard and it is very damaging to the average farmer. I must question the bona fides of the Government. If they dictate to farmers that they must handle the environment carefully, put funds in place to enable them to do so, and then chop off that funding, it is a serious and retrograde step and will be financially damaging to Welsh farmers.
The Government have also given in to strong lobbying by the landed classes for a reform of tenancy law. The reform is overwhelmingly opposed by Welsh farmers, who regard it as damaging in the extreme, but because English farmers are happy with it farmers in Wales have to toe the line. What better example of misrule could there be?
Cereal growers in Wales also suffer from discrimination. They are paid substantially less for producing exactly the same amount of grain as growers elsewhere, which is patently unfair. The message to Welsh farmers is absolutely clear: the Government do not want anything to do with them. They want the farmers to be guardians of the rural areas, but they will not pay them for it. Welsh farmers are low on the Government's agenda: the Government have worked out that they can do without them. I urge Welsh farmers to accept that a Welsh Parliament must be the answer because without a properly funded agricultural industry, and without taking account of the changes in guardianship mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), the fabric of rural Wales will crumble and the culture and language which are so precious to us all will disappear. That is a signal danger that we must bear in mind.
During the passage of the Welsh Language Act 1993, I realised how undemocratic and how unrepresentative of Welsh opinion Westminster is. There was a weight of informed opinion in favour of a clear statement in the Act on the status of the language. Against that opinion, and with the assistance of Conservative Members who knew nothing about the issue, every amendment was defeated. That is yet another example of Westminster rule adversely affecting the interests of the people of Wales.
In case further examples are needed, I cite the question which I tabled last week and which was answered on 1 March. It read:To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will recommend that St. David's day be designated a bank holiday and a national holiday in Wales; and if he will make a statement.The Secretary of State's answer was:No."—[official Report, 1 March 1994; Vol. 238, c. 651.]I am not concerned about whether that response was an insult to me—I am sufficiently thick skinned to take an insult from the Secretary of State—but I do not think that the people of Wales are happy about it. They are not comfortable with a person who just says no without going into any further detail. That is not the type of government that Wales wants; nor is it the type of representation that we want. The Secretary of State will no doubt realise that 1159 fact one day, if it is not too late already. I do not know whether he thinks it is funny, but I do not find it funny and one of these days the people of Wales will ensure that he realises that it is not funny.
Of course, this is the Secretary of State who wanted to turn back the clock and ruin the good work carried out by Welsh bodies on mainland Europe. He wants to remove Welsh dragons from Welsh Development Agency literature, or rather confuse the issue by including a Union Jack, too. When we have at last got the people of mainland Europe to recognise "Wales in Europe" as a selling point which is readily understood, he wishes to confuse the issue by bringing in the Union Jack which is unrepresentative of Wales because Wales does not feature in it.
Is there any truth in the report in The Herald that the Secretary of State is considering closing the Welsh centre in Brussels? I understand that he said today that he did not intend to do so, but I should be pleased if at some point he could undertake to continue to support that vital centre.
§ Mr. Redwood
I have no plans to close the centre. That is just another of the silly rumours put about by Opposition Members. The hon. Gentleman's previous point was also inaccurate. I have passed comments on literature that we send to potential Japanese investors who do not know Wales well. He is confusing that with "Wales in Europe", which is entirely different, as he well knows.
§ Mr. Llwyd
I will not argue the point. I know that time is short.
Is it just a coincidence that the same Secretary of State for Wales has seen the changes to the national curriculum which will undoubtedly slow down the process of bringing bilingualism to our young people in the schools? It may be just a coincidence: I do not know, but I tend to think that his heart is not in the job, that he is really here just on his way up the greasy pole and that he has no real respect for Wales. He certainly never stays there. He has stayed there one evening, I believe, since his appointment, or perhaps two. The Secretary of State shakes his head. Maybe he will tell us in due course.
It was said earlier that because of the vote in 1979 which went against devolution that is the end of the story. Hon. Members are expected to vote on hanging at every opportunity. We are supposed to vote as often as possible —vote early, vote often—on that issue, but on this vital subject of extreme importance to the people of Wales we are not to have a referendum because in 1979 the country decided against it.
A former Prime Minister, Lord Wilson, said that a week was a long time in politics. Fifteen years of Tory misrule is a very long time in politics. That fact alone has led the people of Wales to the inevitable conclusion that they have had enough. Bearing in mind that 72 per cent. of the electorate of Wales voted for parties which had in their manifesto some form of devolution—be it a Parliament, as we want, or an assembly—if we had a referendum tomorrow the answer would be an overwhelming and resounding yes. I want to be awake to greet that day when it eventually comes, because the misrule of this place and the way in which we have been treated is an insult to the people of Wales.
§ Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke)
My contribution will be brief because I know that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) wants to speak before the Front-Bench speakers wind up.
I want to comment on what the Secretary of State said about roads in Wales. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) referred to the Secretary of State's attendance at a private function in Haverfordwest on Monday, after which the Western Telegraph, the local weekly there, ran a headline this Wednesday about the major announcement to be made on roads in west Wales by the Secretary of State. I was, therefore, extremely disappointed by the statement about roads that he actually made because, it appeared to me, all he said was that the "Roads in Wales" supplement 1993 was to stand in relation to those roads. When he publishes the new 1994 supplement, I hope that work on the Robeston Wathen bypass, in particular, will be brought forward and that the Red Roses to Llandowror section will be included in the road programme. The Secretary of State nods. I am not as disppointed now as I was when he first spoke some four hours ago.
The other issue to do with roads that is worth addressing, particularly as the Minister of State is sitting next to the Secretary of State, is the Cleddau bridge. It is a very important road in west Wales. The Minister of State has received a delegation about it. I hope that he will find a few moments in which to comment on trunking the Cleddau bridge, on possibly significantly reducing the tolls and in removing the massive debt burden with which the new Pembrokeshire authority, following local government reorganisation in Wales, will find itself saddled.
The final point that I want to make before I move to the main part of my contribution is perhaps the most serious. Today, I learnt from the office of Bruce Millan something about the Interreg II proposals, about which I, in company with a delegation from west Wales, recently spoke to the Minister of State. I was informed only this afternoon that those proposals, which exclude Dyfed but include Gwynedd, now also exclude south-east Ireland, which had previously been included. As the Minister of State will be aware, the fact that south-east Ireland has now been officially removed from the formal document makes the situation serious.
Previously, we had an illogical situation. On one side of the Irish sea, Rosslare, in south-east Ireland, was included for Interreg funding, whereas on the other side south-west Wales, Dyfed, was excluded. We thought that an omission had occurred because that pattern was paradoxical and illogical. Unfortunately, we understand that the Commission has now altered its submission and removed south-west Ireland, too. As the Minister of State will appreciate, that makes our case far more difficult to argue.
I shall rattle quickly through the rest of my speech because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East wishes to speak. In south-west Wales, as throughout Wales, we have more than a crisis of unemployment. In my constituency, rather than our seeing the end of the recession and the beginning. of the recovery, unemployment is worse than it was a year ago. In the Pembroke constituency, unemployment was higher in January 1994 than in January 1993. There has been no recovery at all in west Wales.
1161 The issue is not only unemployment, bad though that is. One of the consequences of unemployment is low pay. I have contacted my local jobcentres over the past couple of days, and I can tell the Secretary of State what people are expected to live on in west Wales. In the Milford Haven jobcentre, a vacancy for a butcher is advertised at £2 an hour and vacancies for a full-time cook and for a care assistant in a private nursing home at £3 an hour.
Milford Haven jobcentre has 50 vacancies on its books. That means that it has one vacancy for every 30 unemployed people registered there. In Pembroke Dock, on the other side of the Cleddau bridge, a security guard's job is advertised at £2.70 an hour, a job for a bus driver, with all the responsibility that that involves, at £3.22 an hour and one for an experienced chef at £3 an hour. Goodness knows what pay an inexperienced chef would command.
In the south Pembrokeshire travel-to-work area we have the highest unemployment rate in Wales—more than 22 per cent. That means a crisis not only of unemployment but of low pay. The impact that that has on families is best illustrated by a case which I came across that I referred to the Secretary of State for Social Services. Mr. Stephen Rees, after a period of unemployment as a building contractor, got himself on a course and finally found a job. Before that, he was drawing benefits, and benefits in kind such as free school meals, totalling £179.90 a week.
When he started the job, he lost his income support and free school meals but gained his wages and family credit, and kept his child benefit. The new total was £161 a week —but the family still had to pay £9.50 a week for two children's school meals. In the end, after finding a job after following a course of education, Mr. Rees was £35.80 a week worse off. What sort of society are we when people who have followed a course and obtained work find that, because the work is so low paid, and family credit makes up only part of the difference between their income and what is called a living wage for a family, they are worse off?
I wish to draw the attention of the Minister of State yet again to the crisis in our discretionary awards system, and I hope that he will touch on that subject. Whether one receives a discretionary award in Wales is a lottery. The system is based on where a person lives and his or her age. Many local education authorities are forced to limit discretionary awards to those aged between 15 and 25. A 26-year-old in Powys or Dyfed on a further education course does not receive help. Some people in Mid Glamorgan do not receive help with fees. Some people go on a further education college course after being made redundant or because they want to be retrained. Goodness knows how they live. Where are we going if it is better for people to stay on income support or unemployment benefit than to go on a further education college course, during which they cannot support their families or themselves?
Something has to be done. I know what the Minister will say, "Well, we have given this discretion to the local authorities." But the Government have also significantly reduced local authorities' resources. As it is a discretion, sadly, after 15 years of Tory rule, authorities have started to chip away at the resources. When local authorities had the resources, they resourced further education places well. Now they have to make significant cuts. We should 1162 encourage people to come off income support and unemployment benefit and enter further education colleges to acquire the right technical skills.
Unless we tackle those basic issues and are willing to make resources available to create a highly motivated and skilled work force, we shall continue to be at the bottom of the pay league, not only in Britain but in Europe. Ultimately, we will be competing against the Pacific rim countries. That is not good enough for the people of Wales.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
This has been a good debate, with the exception of the disgraceful speech of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards). For me, the high spot of the debate was the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who described graphically, and with an intensity of feeling and knowledge, the crisis in his community. I hope that the Secretary of State will read that speech with great care.
This is our annual Welsh day debate, and there is a certain symbolism in the fact that, while it is usually held on St. David's day, it is being held on 3 March. What arrogance that shows. It is as if the Government were announcing that, as a result of the diktat of the Secretary of State, Christmas day was to be held on 27 December.
The problem involving disabled facilities grants in Wales should be brought graphically to the attention of the Minister. I shall give him one example and I shall not elaborate on it. In April of last year, a constituent of mine applied for the disabled facilities grant because of the crisis in her personal health. I am told by the city council thatUnfortunately … the Council's allocation for discretionary grants (which includes mandatory Disabled Facilities Grants) is fully committed for the current year and the number of applications already in the system will take up the whole of the sum allocated for 1994–95. What is more alarming is that it seems unlikely that all the outstanding applications will be approved in 1994–95 with the consequence being that some will be waiting until 1995–96 before they can be considered for approval.This means that for someone inmy constituent'sposition, they are unlikely to receive an inspection for some considerable time—probably not until the latter half of 1995—and the speed with which an approval can be issued will be dependent upon the capital allocation for Disabled Facilities Grants in 1995–96.So much for the preparation for care in the community, a principle that we all support.
The general point that I shall make briefly is that, on St. David's day, what is the idea of Wales that we wish to promote? Do we believe in the value of a Welsh identity and, if so, what, if anything, are we prepared to do to encourage it? I ask not for any exclusive identity, as there are other identities, but for something of value in itself which gives roots, meaning and value to life. We should be concerned that some all-Wales institutions are now under threat. For example, British Gas Wales is scrapping its Welsh region and is likely to close its headquarters. Does it matter? It says that the service to the consumer will be the same, as if that sentence in some way justifies the removal of an institution which, with its predecessor, has been in Wales for a long time. It is not an answer to say that.
We know of the crisis in the Welsh national opera. As a result of underfunding, we have had not only the recent resignation of the general manager but, in my city of Swansea, the reduction by Welsh national opera of half of 1163 its number of appearances. It may not matter, but I believe that it does and it is of some significance. Other institutions are being marginalised and reduced. The Government. may say that we shall have the Committee of the Regions, but such a Committee was grudgingly accepted by the Government and Wales is not being given a constitutional focus. It is not a separatist argument. I hope that my contribution during the 1970s suggests that I am not someone likely to be swayed by separatist arguments.
I see the value of a Welsh identity and think that it is wrong in community terms that there is such an erosion of that identity. The Government talk of the linking of Wales with motor regions. It is absolutely clear that Europe is going for greater regional identities and that each of the motor regions with which we liaise has its own institutional focus and its own elected and administrative unit. We in Wales do not and I believe that that is wrong.
We must return to the position of the Secretary of State for Wales. I see many great virtues in the Secretary of State. As a person, he has political courage, but he represents Wokingham. He is from outside the folk and outside the culture. Imagine what would happen in Scotland if the Secretary of State for Scotland were to come from Wokingham. Why is Wales so quiet when that insult has been delivered to us? The Secretary of State has his own constituency with its own ideas, which he is pursuing and which puts him, effectively, as part of an English nationalist party. For example, when he tried to prevent the use of the symbol of Wales in Brussels, was his argument against Wales or against Europe? Why cannot Wales project its proper national identity internationally in that way?
It is quite wrong that the Government are acting in a way that dilutes, reduces and removes our Welsh identity. There is a Welsh identity, which is seeking to define itself. The debate on that is under way in Wales today and the Secretary of State and his party have largely opted out of it. That is why the Conservatives are an irrelevance in Wales. The more negative they are, the more that they will promote that which they seek to undermine.
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
I shall take up where my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) left off. This debate does not have one topic, but is a review—an annual debate during which we can paint a picture of the Wales that we see.
The Secretary of State has done his best—he perceives a land of milk and honey. I am pleased to see him back in his seat after his visit elsewhere—probably to Wokingham —so that he can hear more contributions from Opposition Members, which will show him why Wales has, strangely, become more united as it has become more divided from him and from the Tory party.
The Secretary of State has accused Labour Members of not having constructive ideas or offering an alternative vision, but we have just heard one from my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East, and I shall do my best.
The Secretary of State also accused those on the Labour Front Bench of being Trappists. I have been accused of many things, but never of being a Trappist. I tried hard to join that order as a young man, but I failed the oral examination!
My hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) 1164 and for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) painted a picture of the devastating changes taking place in Wales—fundamental changes, for example, to our concepts of the family, of society and of the breadwinner, of council houses and a steady job. People of our age group had been brought up to expect such things, but those fundamentals have been withdrawn and our dreams and expectations have not been replaced by anything else. That is an extremely worrying development, as it is difficult to recreate a society.
The Secretary of State said that he would reintroduce engineering apprenticeships, which were very much a part of people's expectations. People thought that the existence of such apprenticeships would create a sort of working-class aristocracy. Many entrepreneurs followed that route; they did an engineering apprenticeship, attended the local technical college, knew that they were pretty good at their jobs, and, after working for five or perhaps 10 years, started their own businesses.
It is pretty rich for the Government to try to present engineering apprenticeships as a great development, instead of apologising to the people of Wales for destroying them 12 or 13 years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney witnessed the decline and painted a devastating picture. Firms such as Hoover, Teddington Aircraft Controls and Thorn used to supply engineering apprenticeships in numbers a hundred times greater than the number today.
§ Mr. Morgan
Yes, the Coal Board and GKN Dowlais also supplied many of them, but that has all been taken away.
It is a devastating U-turn for the Government to say today that they have decided that what they did for the past 12 years was a bad idea, and that they want to bring back one of those fundamentals. We are pleased to see any conversion on their part, but I hope that they will not expect us to congratulate them.
We recognise the damage that was done to Welsh and to British society at a time when other European countries, such as Germany and France, did not abandon engineering apprenticeships for 14-year-olds, but merely tried to extend them so that more girls were taken on. Apprenticeships for girls were always a problem for my generation arid people who are slightly younger, such as the shadow Secretary of State for Wales.
The Secretary of State also made a major announcement about roads. He tried to claim that he was proposing a new strategic direction for roads. The missing elements of his speech were as important, however, as the content. He stated that he would concentrate on the three east-west routes, and said little about north-south routes. The latter are not as important, but they cannot be ignored.
We want some progress reports on the A470, and we want to know whether priority is being removed from the A483.
As has been said, Clwyd is an extremely important industrial powerhouse in north-east Wales. The connection to Wrexham, Mold and the other important industrial areas around Deeside from industrial south Wales is enormously important. The Department of Transport in England and the roads division of the Welsh Office have put in excellent new routes south from Wrexham through the Ruabon bypass to the Chirk bypass, from Shropshire in England with the Oswestry bypass, and the Welshpool bypass.
1165 There are about 30 miles along the Severn valley where a bypass could easily be constructed—I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) will agree with me—at a reasonable cost, given the nature of the Severn valley. That would give us a connection between the powerhouse of north-east Wales and the powerhouse of industrial south Wales. We see enormous lorries carrying forestry, for example, to the shop and paper mill from mid-Wales and the Brecon Beacons area in south Wales.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Does he agree that we need a policy which consists of putting freight back on the railways, and not running a dual carriageway through central Wales but having a road of the sort of standard which we have on the Welshpool and Llanidloes bypasses?
§ Mr. Morgan
I entirely agree. I defer to the views of local Members. Certainly, the last thing I want is despoliation of the countryside by roads ripping through. A bypass would make it possible to travel, say, the 60 miles from immediately south of Newtown to Wrexham in one hour without difficulty and the sort of hold-ups that one gets at present when one is between Newtown and the southern edge of the Oswestry bypass. A bit of continuity would enormously improve communications there.
There was a big gap where the Secretary of State should have talked about north-south communications. Surely, even on the railways and roads, and the connections to England, I thought that he might have mentioned the one thing on which he as the constituency Member for Wokingham and the Members of Parliament elected by the people of Wales might agree, which is the need to do something about connections to Heathrow from the west.
The Secretary of State mentioned the importance of Heathrow. Why will we have to go all the way to Paddington and then back out again when what we need, as do the Secretary of State and his constituents—6 million or 7 million people live west of London, as well as the people in industrial south Wales, Bristol and so on—is the same access through the Heathrow express link without having to go all the way to Paddington and back out again?
The Secretary of State should be pressing that matter, because it is something on which he and the people of Wales can agree. He should take advantage of and push for it, along with Members of Parliament from the western edge of the home counties. Obviously, that is the origin of his political status which enables him to have the platform to become the Secretary of State for Wales, for however brief a period that may be.
We have also mentioned the issue of morality and housing, on which the Secretary of State made his name. The chairman of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs referred to that issue as well. I do not want to intrude further on the Secretary of State's difficulty in trying to recover his reputation for talking about single mothers in an unprepared and off-the-cuff manner, so I shall turn to a subject on which he has also done a bit of talking off the cuff—the health service and bureaucracy.
Today, the Secretary of State said that he will merge the national health service in Wales with the health policy division, thereby saving one top civil servant's job. That is his way of giving practical effect to his attack on 1166 bureaucracy in the national health service which has caused such trouble between him and the Secretary of State for Health. We have been told that the Secretary of State for Health knee-capped him on the issue. After all, it is not every Minister who can combine the good looks of Nancy Kerrigan with the brains of Tonya Harding. The Secretary of State for Wales has had to learn that the hard way.
I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we want not a lot of pretence and populist drivel about needing to drive down the number of bureaucrats, but acceptance that, in an internal market-based national health service, there will undoubtedly be a large army of accountants to shuffle bits of paper from one health authority to another. That is what we are seeing in the health service at present.
It is no use the Secretary of State pretending that one can introduce an internal market—which undoubtedly he supported in the Lobby, although he was not in the Cabinet at the time—but not like the consequences of it in terms of the number of bureaucrats. He must realise that, in an accountancy-driven health service, not a needs-driven health service, we will get the sort of crisis at the end of the financial year that we are experiencing at the moment.
In the Cardiff area, we are aware that Llandough hospital is not taking any more non-urgent patients from South Glamorgan health authority because the contract money has run out. I believe that there are problems in the Ceredigion health trust, which is not taking any non-urgent patients. I think that there are similar problems in Pembroke involving contracts.
§ Mr. Morgan
Those problems have knock-on effects on employment. There is the problem of boom and bust in the Prince of Wales orthopaedic hospital. Mid Glamorgan health authority has paid for so many orthopaedic operations, including knee and hip joint replacements, that the Prince of Wales hospital cannot do them in time. I have talked to members of staff of the health authority and Mid Glamorgan will ask for its money back on 1 April if the hospital cannot complete 47 outstanding hip and knee joint operations.
The health authority has come up with a wizard scheme. As well as working late at night after doing a full day's work, the staff come in at the weekend. Eight hip operations are carried out on each day of the weekend for two successive weekends, as that is the only way of completing the Mid Glamorgan contract. Otherwise, the health authority must pay the money back to South Glamorgan.
The doctors are being offered £250 a day to come in on Saturday and Sunday, while nurses get double time. However, the doctors cannot get anaesthetic cover without breaching the Royal College of Anaesthetists' professional rules. As a result, the scheme seems to be falling apart and the money may be repaid from South Glamorgan to Mid Glamorgan on 1 April because it was unable to complete the contract. What a way to run the health service.
§ Mr. Redwood
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the patients charter is pioneering work to raise the standards of quality in a way which the Opposition never envisaged when they ran the health service? Will he welcome the fact that we are close to delivering those targets for the first time and does he agree that the Opposition got nowhere near that kind of performance?
§ Mr. Morgan
I reject that completely. The patients charter has produced an army of clerks who tick little boxes to say whether a patient has been treated one or two years after he got an appointment with a consultant. There is a delay in getting an outpatient appointment with a consultant until the consultant is confident that he can see the patient within the maximum time specified in the patients charter.
The Minister asked me for examples of that, and I have given them. Out-patient appointments are now impossible to get. Constituents have come to my surgeries and said that their GPs tried to get them a first outpatient appointment with a consultant. The consultant's secretary has rung the GP and said that the appointment cannot be made and the patient cannot get on the waiting list, because the consultant is still seeing his cases from 1992. The patient is not on the waiting list—he is on a waiting list to go on the waiting list. That is the problem.
§ Mr. Gwilym Jones
The hon. Gentleman asked me to investigate those cases. I have done so, and his constituents are on the waiting list, as are all the others who are in the same situation.
§ Mr. Morgan
The Minister will confirm that he did not tell me that. I supplied him with the information for which he asked, but obviously he has not supplied me with the information that I asked for. That is not an entirely good thing.
§ Mr. Richards
On a point or order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The debate is about Welsh affairs. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) spoke solely about south Wales and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West is speaking solely about his constituency. Is that in order?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker(Mr. Michael Morris)
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the debate is on the Adjournment. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West is entirely in order.
§ Mr. Morgan
Conservative Members were complaining five minutes ago that I was talking about the constituency of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. I do not know where that remark comes from. The House has learnt the hard way with the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards). I am a fairly plain man myself and I believe in calling a shovel a shovel. However, it is what is sticking to the shovel that worries me about the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) spoke about police and crime. It was a useful contribution, because he was a calming influence after the previous speech from the Government Benches. The hon. Gentleman was more PC Plod than Flying Squad, despite his name, but he gave a proper illustration of the way in which the shoe is pinching on the police and crime front.
The hon. Gentleman said that he had been to see the Home Office Minister, Earl Ferrers, about the matter. We have taken a deputation to see Earl Ferrers because of the problems with the South Wales police authority, for which the situation appears to be "capped if you do, damned if you don't." The problem is that it has been told by the Home Office to spend 5.5 per cent. but by the Welsh Office to spend only 1.75 per cent. That is a classic example of interdepartmental cross-sterilisation.
The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan thinks that the main part of the blame should lie with the South Wales 1168 police authority. We do not agree with that, simply on the basis of the extremely instructive letter that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) dated 27 January as part of a parliamentary reply.
He made it clear that the 1.75 per cent. restriction applied even to police expenditure. There was no ring fencing and no way out of the restriction. The authority is bound hand, foot and finger. He will see that if he reads the reply that he gave in Hansard. That is the problem. We have to solve it somehow. I wonder whether, in his reply, the Minister might make some reference to the approaches that Lord Ferrers has made to Welsh Office Ministers to try to solve the problem.
The other major topic that has been covered extensively today is the constitutional issues relating to Wales. That is natural on a day like this. We have referred to the quangos, the forums and the assemblies. We have seen the Secretary of State's press release today about his letter to the two local authority associations in Wales. His press release contradicts the letter that he has sent as regards the position of Members of Parliament on any future forum or council of local authorities.
The press release says that Members of Parliament will be invited to attend. Therefore, they will not be part of the body. Clearly, one does not need to be invited to attend if one is part of the body. The letter to the local authority associations, which may have been doctored later, says that Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament probably could be part of the body. There is some confusion here, which we hope the Minister of State will clear up.
The Secretary of State said that we were running down Wales by referring to criticisms of the quangos, and that the criticisms were partisan. He seems to forget—he ought to know—that the Public Accounts Committee has taken on most of the burden of criticising the quangos in Wales. It is the most non-partisan Committee. It has a Tory majority, although it has a Labour Chairman. Criticisms of quangos have come from both sides of the Committee. It would be wrong of us to seek to limit the powers of the PAC to make such criticisms.
Our problem is that the Secretary of State is the Secretary of State not for Wales but for quangoland in Wales. He is anti-Welsh, as most Opposition Members who have spoken tonight have mentioned. People in Wales look at him as a rising Tory placeman who missed his turn-off on the M4 one night. They do not have confidence in him, simply because he has not earned it. We shall find out on 19 March, because there will be a clash between his constituents, who will expect him to cheer for England, and people in Wales, who will expect him to cheer for Wales.
We have also said tonight that this debate should have been held on Tuesday. I tried to get some inspiration before I came to the Commons today by looking up at the gilt relief statue of St. David. I tried to get some inspiration to apologise to St. David that the debate was being held two days late. I heard an other-worldly, ethereal voice saying, "Hammer them, Rhodri." Everyone has told the Secretary of State that, if we had a vote tonight, the result would be 32–6 to this side. We hope that the result on 19 March will be the same. We know that St. David would be pleased about that.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts)
Today's debate, as most of us expected, has wandered over the fair face of Wales. I am not so sure that the debate has been such a good advertisement for a Welsh assembly, if we ever get one. Be that as it may, the first thing that I want to do is reassert the prime importance and high priority that the Government, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I attach to the successful development and strengthening of the Welsh economy. That matters more than anything else because the living conditions and quality of life of Welsh people depend on it.
Achieving a greater measure of prosperity requires a single-mindedness and a unity of purpose on the part of all involved, which is never easy to achieve in Wales.
We are making progress out of the recession and business optimism is high. But no one is more aware than the Conservative party of how far we must go to raise GDP per head and average full-time earnings in Wales. We are driving hard on the inward investment front and our success in attracting manufacturing industry shows the way forward. We are also actively promoting exports, particularly by our small and medium-sized companies. Joint ventures between them and similar companies abroad are also being promoted because we know that full order books are one of the keys to safeguarding existing jobs and creating new ones.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) pressed us to get alongside the "four motors", but we have been doing precisely that since 1987. One of the developments as a result of our connection with the four motors was to establish, through the Welsh Development Agency, Eurolink at Stuttgart. That has now developed links between some 50 European and Welsh companies. What is the Opposition's policy in that vital area? They always give me the impression that they think that inward investment and expansion by existing Welsh companies will continue automatically. I assure them that it will not unless the conditions are right—low interest rates, low inflation and low corporate taxes.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
Alas, I was given less than my ration of time by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan).
We have also adhered firmly to our policy of improving infrastructure, with record high investment in roads—both Welsh Office trunk roads and county road schemes—and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, there is more to come in the years ahead. I am delighted that most of his road proposals announced today were welcomed by Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who realises that the A465 can be a lifeline to Merthyr, as can the A470, which he and I had the pleasure of opening not so long ago.
That investment is crucial to the future development of all aspects of the Welsh economy, as is our investment in education and training. We have heard nothing of the Opposition's policies in those areas. It is all very well to criticise us, but they are repeating many of the points that we made in last week's debate and claiming them as their policies. From what I hear of their education policies, they would appear to take us backwards rather than forwards. 1170 They would undo much of what has been done in schools and elsewhere. Indeed, the Opposition's policies are very sleazy in the true sense of that word, which is "thin and flimsy".
Nothing could have been sleazier, in those terms, than the speech of the hon. Member for Caerphilly, which consisted largely of personal imprecations against my right hon. Friend and an attack on Plaid Cymru.
The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), who, alas, is no longer here, reacted strongly to our review of the homelessness legislation and referred to our consultation document, "Access to Local Authority and Housing Association Tenancies". The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) also referred to that. May I emphasise that we must always ensure that the operation of the homelessness legislation is fair to all those in need of social housing. It is in the interests of people in genuine need for us to ensure that no one uses wholly unjustified fast tracks to a council or housing association home provided with public funds.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) referred to agriculture and to hill livestock compensatory allowances in particular. As my right hon. Friend said, I am sure that he will be aware that the average level of net farm income for hill livestock farms rose by some 35 per cent. in real terms in 1991–92 and 1992–93 and is forecast to rise further in the current year.
Total direct subsidies to hill sheep farmers in Wales have increased by 38 per cent. over the past two years to an average of more than £26,000 per farm. During the same period, the average level of HLCAs paid to these farmers fell, but the reductions in HLCAs were more than offset by the overall increase in subsidies. Some 16,000 farmers are expected to benefit. There has also been a 16 per cent. rise in sheep annual premium rates in 1993 and farmers will benefit from the substantial increases in suckler cow premium for last year.
Total payment of direct subsidies to hill farmers in Wales will be at least £160 million in 1994. That surely shows the Government's commitment to the farmers in the hills and uplands. Only recently, my right hon. Friend announced the addition of the Clwyd and Preseli environmentally sensitive areas.
There have been numerous references to education. We all know that more children are staying on at school or going on to further and higher education. I must tell the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) that that is why we are encouraging children to achieve vocational qualifications as well as or instead of strictly academic qualifications. We are encouraging them to take GNVQs instead of A-levels.
The staying-on rate at school has meant a tremendous increase in student numbers in the past 10 to 12 years. Since 1980, student enrolments in higher education in Wales outside the university have more than doubled, while at the university of Wales numbers rose by more than 50 per cent.
The higher education sector in Wales has grown by 53 per cent. since 1987–88 and we are increasing the total funding available for students by some 4 per cent. next year. Those students are very important because they will make a significant contribution to the trained work force which is essential for Wales to remain competitive.
There has been a remarkable development in further education. We have given high priority to the launch of the new further education sector, which is the key to producing 1171 many more people with technical and other skills so that Wales can compete more effectively in the world economy.
This year's funding is intended to support an increase of nearly 10 per cent. in student numbers to an overall total of 46,000 full-time equivalents. So resources for next year will rise from £144 million to £160 million and further increases in funding have been provisionally earmarked for the following years.
As my right hon. Friend reminded us earlier, over the weekend the hon. Member for Caerphilly lectured Labour councillors on their arrogance. The Western Mail called it a stinging attack. Today he lectured us on our indifference. So, in the hon. Gentleman's view, friend and foe alike are guilty of the besetting sin of pride. If I were on the Opposition Benches, I should be worried as to when he would start lecturing me.
Opposition Members must be as puzzled as I am about what really lies behind the castigations of the hon. Member for Caerphilly. Is it all part of a softening-up process before we see Comrade Ron's little kingdom, his very own little Moscow, his dream socialist-style estate in Wales? Or is the real explanation that the hon. Gentleman is at fault in that he lacks a proper degree of humility? That is a fatal flaw in a leader and a sure prelude to riding for a fall. The Labour party may be riding high in the polls at the moment, but it is very uncertain about its policies and has nothing new to offer the people of Wales but stale and unprofitable policies, such as devolution.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.