HC Deb 27 February 1997 vol 291 cc476-524

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.

6.5 pm

Sir Wyn Roberts (Conwy)

I realise that some hon. Members may greet my announcement that this will be positively my last appearance in the annual debate on Welsh affairs with a polite sigh of relief. After 27 years' participation one way or another, even my feelings are mixed. I prefer beginnings to endings.

This has traditionally been a day for state-of-the-nation speeches from the Front Benches and state-of-the-constituency speeches from the Back Benches. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) is not with us. I mean no disrespect, of course, to the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), who took his place. I am consoled by the fact that the hon. Member for Caerphilly is in Llandudno, in my constituency, where he will undoubtedly see the record investment that has taken place there over the past 18 years. He will see it in the glorious vistas of the A55 and in that great triumph of engineering the Conwy tunnel, and in its sister tunnels at Penmaenmawr and Penmaen-bach. He will also see it in the development of Llandudno hospital, which the Liberals have been threatening with closure for the past 30-odd years.

All in all, year on year, the official record of these debates is an essential part of the background to the history of Wales and its people in our time. I hope that these debates will continue.

I shall dip only briefly into the past to set the present and future in perspective, but it is worth reminding ourselves just how heavily dependent we were for employment in Wales on coal and steel, and how both sides of the House came to realise that those industries could not be sustained indefinitely with subsidies from the taxpayer. It will interest hon. Members to know that, as late as 1978–79, the National Coal Board received the equivalent of £1.2 billion in subsidies, and British Steel £2.1 billion at today's prices. There was a string of pit closures in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and a slimdown in the steel industry. At the same time, considerable efforts were made, through substantial investment, to modernise those industries and make them economically viable.

Those efforts were more successful in the steel industry, probably because we started from a better base. There was no denying the fall in demand for coal, and the severity of competition in steel. Thousands of jobs were lost, and we needed new industries. They came as inward investment from abroad: Sony in 1972 and Ford in 1976. I pay tribute to our predecessors on both sides of the House who had to face up to those difficult problems and take some tough and painful decisions.

Some of us had the pleasure of hearing Lord Callaghan at lunchtime. When he represented Cardiff, South he had to endure the closure of East Moors steelworks in his constituency. Similarly, Michael Foot had to face the prospect of the end of steelmaking in his constituency of Ebbw Vale. I must commend the foresight of those, including the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), who anticipated the devastating consequences of those and other closures on our economy, and took steps to ameliorate the effects by establishing the means to attract and develop new industry.

Hon. Members will know that, from 1979, my noble and spirited Friend Lord Crickhowell, then the Secretary of State, led mission after mission to North America and Japan, at some cost to his health, as did his successors. As a result, some 300 overseas companies have established 380 plants and provided 75,000 jobs in Wales. I am glad to say that I played some part in that. I visited Japan and met the president of Hoya: I am still wearing the Hoya lenses that I acquired before I met him. I also visited North America and Europe to procure jobs for Wales. I know from experience how important an attraction to foreign companies was the unrivalled quality of the Welsh work force and its astonishing flexibility. The co-operative, welcoming attitude of the local authorities was also very much to the fore. All those people deserve the highest praise for their patience, and their readiness to embrace new developments.

Local indigenous companies were not ignored. Laura Ashley began as a kitchen industry: that is how the great lady herself described it. It was a local company and grew to employ hundreds of people in mid and north Wales; and it still does. Control Techniques and other companies also achieved international stature.

Someone said that history is the biography of great men—and, I am sure, women. Wales has been fortunate in having people who have dedicated themselves with a will to tackling its problems, including my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State. My dearest wish is that that tradition will continue.

I must also draw attention to the extensive support that Wales has received from the rest of the United Kingdom in its transition to a more diversified economy. It was not just money that came to us; there was more to it than that. There was good will towards us; a will that we should succeed in Wales. Without that assistance from the rest of the United Kingdom at home and abroad, the change that we have witnessed would hardly have been possible.

We still require that assistance to make further advances, and to raise the standard of living of our people in Wales. The standard needs raising, as is shown by the statistical data to which the hon. Member for Bridgend referred. We all know that, but it stands to reason that we should not put support from the United Kingdom at risk. If we do, we put the future prosperity of the people of Wales in peril.

We are all agreed—Conservative Members at least—that we need more and better jobs in Wales, and that that is the way to raise wage levels and improve conditions. We must pursue present policies vigorously and relentlessly, as my right hon. Friend is doing. We realise that circumstances may change, that there may be fewer potential inward investors about and that competition for their investment may become keener. We have known that situation in the past. We may have to change tack and provide more forceful encouragement to indigenous businesses in the westernmost parts of Wales, but our main thrust is right: jobs, more jobs, better jobs. That must be our top priority. I want to see Wales vie with the very best and most prosperous regions in the United Kingdom.

The Opposition pay lip service to that kind of thinking, but in reality their major priority is purely political: to make constitutional changes and to establish a Welsh Assembly. That is already taking a great deal of their time and energy. If Labour wins the election—which I do not think it will—it will take up even more time. There will be the referendum campaign followed by a protracted legislative process. What will happen to the Welsh economy while all that diversionary activity is going on? There will be little progress, if any, because everyone will be distracted from the main aim of improving economic conditions in Wales.

I listened to the hon. Member for Bridgend, but he had nothing to offer us. He talked about partnerships, about chatting up people across Wales and about asking for more money, but he did not tell us where he would get it from or say what he would do as a result of that talking-shop activity in Wales. It is not just him: I do not want to blame him unduly. If—it is a very big if—a few years from now, the 60 assemblymen are comfortably seated in Cardiff, Caerphilly or perhaps Llandudno, sorting out their responsibilities for the quangos, how much better off will the people of Wales be as a consequence? Not a penny piece.

There will be. We already know of the 20 questions that the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) has put to the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). They contain an implicit threat. We can be sure that confusion will reign, and confusion is not a prescription for progress.

I warn Labour Members that their assembly proposals are a recipe for divisiveness. Wales is easily divided: Cardiff versus the valleys, north versus south. Furthermore, it is a recipe for unfairness. One thing that can be said of my right hon. Friend and his predecessors in the Welsh Office is that they have always dealt fairly and equitably with every part of Wales and with all the people of Wales. I am not sure that that would happen necessarily under an assembly.

An added problem is that an assembly would isolate Wales from the rest of the United Kingdom and, possibly, from the world, which would be dangerous because our national needs in Wales will not be met if we are isolated. They would be ignored, so I have serious misgivings about the future that the Opposition hold out to us, and I assure them that those misgivings are shared by many people in Wales—as they were almost 20 years ago.

I may be accused of being somewhat servile—that is the worst that has been thrown at me. My reply is that at least I recognise a gift horse when I look it in the mouth. I know where power lies. Opposition Members should not forget that Nye Bevan set out on that search and he ended up here. It is here in Westminster and in Whitehall that power lies, and this is where it will remain.

Members of Plaid Cymru frequently refer to the recent progress made by the Republic of Ireland with assistance from Europe—which I welcome—but they tend to forget that the Republic has taken a long time to reach its present position, that it still has 11 per cent. unemployment, and that 43 per cent. of its population is under 25. A fifth of our population are pensioners, so the situation is different and, of course, the Republic does not have the generous backing that we in Wales receive from the UK. The Irish receive strong support from Europe, but for how long if Europe is enlarged?

Hon. Members will know my tradition—the tradition of the manse—so it is not without reason that I say that, without vision, the people perish. Conservative Members have long cherished the vision of a more prosperous Wales, and we are determined to harness people's energies to realise that vision. I regret to say that the Opposition only pretend to share that vision. It seems to be alien to their thinking. It is certainly not at the core of anything that we have heard this afternoon. The core of their vision for Wales is the consolidation of their party's political power in Wales, so I am inclined to share Nye Bevan's nightmare of people starving in front of their television sets. That seems a distinct possibility as one listens to the offbeat plans and priorities, and the discordant, irresponsible separatist voices in the wings.

In the past 18 years, we have made considerable progress in building new hospitals, laying new roads and improving education and training. Our further and higher education colleges are pervaded by a new spirit of enterprise, but there is still a vast amount to be done by way of improving servicees when we have the resources at our command. We must keep our eyes fixed on those needs and try to meet them head on. We must not allow ourselves to be diverted in the race—that is the great danger-and we must realise that those needs can be met only by driving the wealth-creation process as hard as we can to produce the necessary resources.

I am sure that we are on the right path. The challenge is to stay on it. The people of Wales wish to do so because it is the only path that offers them hope of a better life. They will enable us to stay on that path provided that we tell them clearly enough the positive benefits that lie ahead and contrast them with the troublesome, counterproductive and, sadly, negative prospects represented by the Opposition.

I am humble enough to think that I may be wrong, but I do not think so. Conservative Members must eliminate those negative, unprofitable prospects and accentuate our positive record of achievement and positive vision of a better material future for the people of Wales. Fortunately, we do not have to worry about the use that Welsh people will make of any prosperity that may come their way: they have an incomparable cultural and linguistic heritage and a rich spiritual inheritance which they will not allow to be lost in the sands of time.

6.25 pm
Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

It has always been a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts), but on this occasion, that pleasure is obviously tinged with sadness because, as he said, this is the last occasion on which he will address the House, certainly during a Welsh debate. He has always made his contributions with charm and civility. Although he and I have differed from time to time, especially on the assembly—perhaps he remembers one or two occasions in the dim and distant past when we debated the matter—I have never doubted, indeed I do not think that any hon. Member has, his patriotism and his dedication to his country, to its culture and its language. We shall certainly miss him in the House.

A year is longtime in politics, but it is not a long time in economics. Last year, we debated Welsh affairs and the Welsh economy. Despite the bullish upbeat performance by the Secretary of State for Wales, sadly, little has changed fundamentally for the Welsh economy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) said. It is no good the Secretary of State muttering; sadly, Wales is still at the bottom of the league. It is the poorest region in Britain and has been for the past 18 years, through the 1980s and into the 1990s. The gap between Wales and the rest of Britain may be getting wider—I do not know—but the least that can be said is that we are at the bottom of the pile.

We can find plenty of people to blame. Labour Members can blame Conservative Members and the economic policies of the early 1980s, with interest rates at 17 per cent. and the crippling level of the pound, which destroyed many of our industries. The hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) has his demons: those fat, sleazy, short Labour councillors. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) and his friends have their demons, too—the London Government and the English—and they are looking forward to the new Brussels Government, who, they believe, will one day solve all the problems. Therefore, we can all blame each other and others for this sad state of affairs.

The reality, however—the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West and others mentioned this in the devolution debate—is set out starkly in the Welsh budget, which the Welsh Office has produced, for 1994–95. It is never easy and never has been—I think that it was the Labour Government of 1974–79 who started this exercise—to produce a budget for a separate area, region or country, within a single economic unit such as the UK, but, obviously, things are getting more sophisticated and it is perhaps becoming easier to do so, because there is more information.

I congratulate the Welsh Office on producing the budget. No doubt there are assumptions and perhaps we can challenge some of them, but, by and large, it seems to be a fairly realistic portrayal and analysis of what was happening in 1994–95, although, since then, not much has changed in the Welsh economy.

The figures are stark and worrying. According to the Welsh budget, total Government expenditure was £15.6 billion, but revenue was only £9.9 billion. That is a deficit of revenue against expenditure of £5.7 billion. If we make certain assumptions and take the Welsh gross domestic product in 1994–95 to be £28 billion, we arrive at a dreadful Government borrowing requirement or fiscal deficit of 20 per cent.

When I saw that figure, I thought that it could not be true, so I decided to look at 1996–97, as there had been some improvements. I assumed no increase whatever in public expenditure, a growth rate of 2.5 per cent. a year, or 5 per cent. over the two years, and an increase in revenue of 2.5 per cent. a year, or 5 per cent. over the two years. I rounded up when it was favourable to Wales and rounded down when it was favourable to Wales. I increased the GDP by 2.5 per cent. a year for the coming year, but I still reached a borrowing requirement or fiscal deficit of 15 per cent. for the Welsh economy.

I shall not go back over the Maastricht debate, but we all know that the Maastricht treaty called for a fiscal deficit of 3 per cent. We all read about the troubles and problems of Chancellor Kohl and others in Germany, in trying to reduce the German fiscal deficit from 4 per cent. to 3 per cent.

I then looked up the figures for the European Union. The country with the highest deficit is Greece, with a figure of about 8 per cent. We are talking about a deficit of 15 per cent. for the Welsh economy, and that is on favourable assumptions. I do not believe that any country in the western world could survive with such a deficit. It would be impossible to fund a deficit of 15 per cent. Who would fund it? The banks certainly would not fund it, nor would major international corporations. The International Monetary Fund would not fund it without substantial cuts in public expenditure. It just would not happen.

I received at my house in my constituency a piece of paper from Plaid Cymru, advocating that Wales should leave the United Kingdom and join the European Union. That is a fine idea, but it did not explain how a 15 per cent. deficit in GDP would be funded if Wales were to move from one union to another. Some £5 billion would have to be found, and it would not come from the European Commission.

I see that the hon. Member for Ynys Môn has a newspaper cutting saying that Wales is to lose £200 million in regional aid. We are talking about not millions, but billions. We are talking about a deficit of £5 billion or slightly more. There is no way in which it could be funded. Mr. Jacques Santer would not fund such a deficit. The idea that any political party could go to the people of Wales in a general election and say, "Look at Ireland. We shall join the European Union and then we shall be able to survive as an independent nation," is simply impossible.

It is dishonest to the people of Wales to pretend that somehow it would be possible to switch from one union to another and finance an enormous deficit. It could not be done. The Welsh economy would disappear down a black hole. In theory, it could be financed by major cuts in public expenditure and pensions and major closures of hospitals and schools. It just is not credible. I should have thought that Plaid Cymru would at least do the people of Wales the service of making it quite clear that it is economically impossible.

We are also told that money could come to Wales in the same way as it comes to Ireland, and that if Wales could get over that huge chasm and become part of the European Union, it would get more money from the cohesion fund. It would probably receive about five or six times as much as it does now—the figure would probably increase from about £30 million to £40 million now, to about £200 million. That is quite a large sum, but we are talking about millions, not billions. The extra £200 million or so would make no dent in a borrowing requirement of more than £5 billion.

To return to the Welsh economy, it gives none of us any pleasure to draw attention to the difficulties, but they have to be faced. I hope that matters will improve and that the new LG investment, among others, will raise income levels and lower the need for public expenditure, but that can make only a small dent in the deficit in the Welsh economy.

As the right hon. Member for Conwy said, global competition for loose capital will increase. The wages that are paid in manufacturing and engineering in western countries and the United States are certainly far higher than the average wages in those industries, in the global economy. As developing countries develop further and countries such as China begin to produce car components, it is inevitable that the pressure will be even greater on the income that we in the west obtain from producing goods that will also be produced by other countries. Competition will become more intense, and only way in which we in Wales will hold our own, improve and compete will be by trying to ensure that our education system is equipped for the global market.

There has been much emphasis on education in the debate. Companies require an extraordinary combination of skills in their managers and key personnel. They need people with literacy and numeracy skills and technological competence. That is a difficult combination of skills. Sadly, whatever has been said in the debate, I do not believe that the Welsh education system is equipped to create those skills.

Over the past 30 years, the gap between Welsh secondary education and that in the more prosperous parts of England has widened. It is my impression, not empirical evidence, that it has worsened. Certainly, the gap between Welsh state-funded secondary education and the better English public schools has become much wider.

Mr. Alex Carlile

The right hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Will he develop it further by agreeing that the fact that there are now almost no grants available for postgraduate education for Welsh students is diminishing the enormous skills that the brightest young Welsh people have to offer their country and the world? Does he agree that the Government have miserably and wretchedly ignored postgraduate education?

Mr. Davies

Indeed. My generation was able to benefit from that system, but the present generation cannot. Perhaps I can concentrate on the 12 to 19-year-olds, where the gap has grown wider.

In Wales, we pride ourselves on our democracy and the fact that we do not educate an elite. Wales is the only country in the United Kingdom that does not specifically educate an elite. The English do and so do the Scots. I am not quite sure about Northern Ireland, but I suspect that it does, too.

The main condemnation of the way in which the English and Scots educate their elite through their public school system is not that it is a boarding system, or even the fact that they educate an elite—it is that that elite is based on money, because access to the institutions depends on a person's resources. The French seem to have managed to educate an elite through their state system. The Germans, perhaps, have done so as well. The Americans are in an interesting position. They rightly pride themselves on the equality of opportunity that they provide, but they also make sure that they educate an elite. That elite is educated partly through private schools and partly through neighbourhood schools, bolstered by the planning and zoning system, which makes sure that the children who go to those schools are from very well-heeled homes.

Wales is one of the few countries that do not educate an elite. Perhaps we take pride in that—I do not know. The result is that the gap between our education system and those in England and Scotland for children between the ages of 12, 13 or 14 and 19 is very wide. We are fooling ourselves if we believe that our state secondary system is able to make even a dent in that gap.

I have a brief suggestion.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman's argument means that he will support the provisions in the Education Bill that is before the House.

Mr. Davies

I heard the Secretary of State's brief comments about that. I do not think that the proposals go anywhere near far enough towards solving this very real problem. If those in the educational establishment in Wales read Hansard, no doubt I shall be lynched on my way back to the Principality, but I suggest that we should think about trying to educate an elite in Wales between the ages of 12 and 19.

The only way to do that would be by setting up centres of excellence. I shall not talk about elite schools any more—centres of excellence is a fine term. We should establish five or six centres of excellence to educate an elite, based not on money, but on competition, on merit, and on interview or examination.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Grammar schools.

Mr. Davies

No, not grammar schools. I grew up in the grammar school system, and I do not have a starry-eyed, romantic view of it. I do not believe that we can have a grammar school in every town.

Mr. Richards

The right hon. Gentleman said a moment ago that we did not educate an elite in Wales. Surely he of all people will realise that, some years ago, we did—we educated elite people to play rugby at grammar schools in Llanelli, Carmarthen, Bridgend, Gower—

Mr. Anderson

And Swansea.

Mr. Richards

And Swansea. They were an elite, educated by the grammar schools that I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman's party did away with.

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman knows better than that. I was not talking about sport. I was trying to address my remarks to the problem that Wales will face in, to use a vogue phrase, the global market in the next millennium. It is a real problem. We have never set out to educate an elite in Wales. The old grammar schools did not do that. The gap between our old grammar schools and the better grammar schools in England—and certainly the better public schools in England—was always wide. Let us have no romanticism about a grammar school in every town.

My suggestion, which no doubt will be shot down in flames by the educational establishment, is to set up five or six centres of excellence. They would have to be boarding centres, because we could not have more than five or six. Entry would be by competitive examination or interview. They would be funded by the state—I shall come back to that in a moment—and they would teach a small number of subjects. They would not teach the easy subjects such as sociology, law, politics, business studies and the others that have crept into the A-level system to provide padding.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Bring back Latin.

Mr. Davies

Yes, indeed. The schools would teach the subjects that would equip young men and women in Wales to compete in this awful global economy that we are faced with. They would have to teach English, because literacy will be very important. It is no use teaching French—French is not on the Internet, and nor are German or Chinese. The language of the global market is English. Those who can communicate in English—when I watch some of our television programmes, I wonder whether some Welsh people can—will have an advantage. The schools should obviously also teach science and mathematics. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) muttered something about Latin. Indeed, we should teach the classics. There is no need to teach any more than that.

Where will the money come from? It cannot come from the present education budget, because that would defeat the whole purpose. We need to raise the standards of everybody. I am not talking about educating an elite at the expense of somebody else. We all have to address funding in this era of iron Chancellors and over-mighty central bank governors. The money would have to come from either a grant from the London Government or the rest of the Welsh Office budget. Hard choices would have to be made, and money might have to be taken from health, transport or other important services, because education is more important than anything else. If we do not equip our young people for the future, we shall not have much of a health service or a transport service or anything else to spend money on, bearing in mind the enormous gap between expenditure and revenue in Wales.

All nations need myths and perhaps small nations such as Wales need more than most. However, one myth that we can do without is the old one that the Welsh really believe in education and that we have a marvellous education system. We do not and we have not had one for a long time. If we do not acquire one, at the end of the next 20 years we shall still be at the bottom of the economic pile.

6.46 pm
Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)

I, too, begin by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) for his long service and contribution, as a Member of this House and as a Minister, to his constituents and to the people of Wales.

The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) made an interesting contribution, as always. He commented on the speech that I made during last Thursday's debate on the constitution. I should like to return to that issue for a short while this afternoon, because it is fundamental to the current debate on devolution, whether one is debating the Labour party's proposals or the more extreme proposal of independence campaigned for by Plaid Cymru.

Last week, I drew on data from the 1994–95 "Government Expenditure and Revenue" report for Wales, published in January this year. As the right hon. Member for Llanelli said, it shows a fiscal deficit of £5.7 billion. That is a structural deficit—it is there every year. It is the difference between Government expenditure in 1994–95 of £15.6 billion, and tax receipts of £9.9 billion. Just to maintain public services at the current level and quality, £5.7 billion a year would have to be raised. That is not taking into consideration Plaid Cymru's promises and pledges, which although they are very difficult to cost would certainly add several billion pounds to that deficit.

Since my remarks last Thursday, the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who I am afraid is not in his place at the moment, has come up with what I think he would argue are responses to the charges that Wales could not pay its way in the world at the current level of public services. He said that, if there were an independent Wales, its contribution to the defence budget would be much lower and, therefore, the cost of additional services and the deficit could be made up. I am afraid that that does not stand up to any scrutiny.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon said that, under Plaid Cymru, Wales would spend 1 per cent. of its gross domestic product on defence. The published figures for 1994–95 show that Wales's contribution to defence is £940 million a year. As the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) said, 1 per cent. of Welsh GDP is £280 million. The net contribution to the revenue of an independent Wales would therefore be something short of £700 million, which would still leave a recurring fiscal deficit of more than £5 billion a year.

It is something of a revelation that Plaid Cymru has attempted to quantify its defence policy of all policies because it has not attempted to quantify any other spending pledges. We have the figure of 1 per cent. for defence but nothing else. Normally, a country would decide how much to spend on defence by assessing national security and the threat to it. Having made such a threat assessment, the Government of the day of whichever country would decide how best to meet it by deciding how much money to spend and what resources would be required. I am sure that Plaid Cymru has not thought for a moment about a threat assessment or the national security implications of an independent Wales. Its policy is complete nonsense.

A short while ago, while listening to the debate, I wondered what sort of defence policy and forces Plaid Cymru might have in mind to defend Wales. It occurred to me that some day, under an independent Wales whose assembly is run by Plaid Cymru, we might see a flotilla of stainless steel coracles on the River Teifi, perhaps an armoured regiment of Skodas with mounted peashooters, or even an air squadron of bilingual carrier pigeons. I shall leave that to Plaid Cymru to consider if such a situation ever arises.

The other policy that Plaid Cymru has attempted to quantify is its health policy. About two years ago, it published what it called a health "White Paper", which contained pledges costing many hundreds of millions of pounds on top of the existing level of provision in Wales. The document said quite clearly that health and social services in Wales would be paid for by 9 per cent. of Welsh GDP. Had the person who wrote that paper taken the trouble to look at the data, they would have found that we already spend 10 per cent. of Welsh GDP on health and social services. So, without mentioning any extra resources, Plaid Cymru would have to find an additional 1 per cent. of GDP just to maintain the current level of services.

Bearing in mind the fiscal deficit of £5 billion, the total tax take in Wales from all sources—income tax, corporation tax, value added tax, council tax, and so on—is £9.9 billion. For argument's sake and ease of calculation, let us call it £10 billion. Taxes across the board in Wales would have to be raised by 50 per cent. just to maintain services at today's levels. As the right hon. Member for Llanelli quite clearly said, that is just not feasible; it cannot be done. Plaid Cymru does itself and the people of Wales a great disservice by suggesting that an independent Wales with a Parliament in Cardiff could improve the quality of life in Wales—it could not. The right hon. Gentleman also blew a hole in the myth that Plaid Cymru has woven about European funding. We are talking about small beer—I suppose that it is small beer in Plaid Cymru's terms—of a couple of hundred million pounds here, and a couple of hundred million pounds there. I am talking about a recurring deficit of £5 billion. Members of Plaid Cymru should at least be honest with the people of Wales and say that what they plan cannot be done.

The other comment that the hon. Member for Caernarfon has published since I spoke last week is that much of Plaid Cymru's spending would be financed by increasing the basic rate of income tax in Wales by 2p in the pound, taking it up to 25p. One penny on the basic rate of income tax in Wales raises £60 million, and 2p raises £120 million. That would just about cover the cost of the Welsh television channel S4C, which would presumably be responsible to the assembly or parliament of an independent Wales. Plaid Cymru has been rather silent about S4C, as has the Labour party. Whether S4C would be responsible to an assembly and whether the assembly would finance it is a question for the Labour party as well as Plaid Cymru.

Before I turn to commenting on the Labour party, I should like to make one more point about Plaid Cymru. It continually says that it speaks for the people of Wales. Its members constantly deride the Conservatives because we have six Members of Parliament representing constituencies in Wales. At the last general election, Plaid Cymru was supported by 10 per cent. of the people in Wales—so it does not speak for them. The Conservatives were supported by and large by about 30 per cent. of the people in Wales. We therefore speak for rather more of the people of Wales than Plaid Cymru. It is offensive of Plaid Cymru to suggest, as I am sure the Labour party would also argue, that it speaks for the people of Wales, because 90 per cent. of them do not support Plaid Cymru.

As for the Labour party, it is regrettable that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) is not in his place. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy said, it does not take very long to get to north Wales. Those of us who have constituencies in north Wales frequently have to travel up late on a Thursday evening or very early Friday morning to attend meetings or surgeries. It is bread and butter for us, and just goes to show how rarely the hon. Gentleman has been in north Wales since 1992. Indeed, to my recollection, the only time that he visits north Wales is when there is some form of election pending.

I should like to ask Labour Front Benchers several questions. I do not expect to receive an answer to the first one, because I know that they—certainly the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)—do not have an answer to it. It is the West Lothian question. If the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) has a formula to explain how to resolve the West Lothian question, with an assembly in Cardiff and a Parliament in Scotland, Conservative Members would dearly love to hear it.

The second question—as opposed to the West Lothian question—is more of a Cardiff West question. It was interesting—a mild revelation—to hear the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) talking about a Welsh Assembly forming committees to run the Welsh Development Agency, to run health and to run this and that. However, Conservative Members should like to know what the relationship would be between the Executive—in the form of the Secretary of State for Wales, who is responsible for services such as health and education in Wales—and the assembly? As he said a moment ago, an assembly would have some executive powers. However, the Secretary of State would not be a member of the assembly, and therefore would not have a vote in the assembly on how the Welsh bloc would be distributed or be able to take part in debates on those serious issues.

Therefore, what would be the relationship between an assembly with executive powers and a Secretary of State—who is presumably a member of the Cabinet—with executive powers? Which would be supreme in a dispute? How would a dispute be resolved? How would it work? Perhaps the hon. Member for Bridgend would like to answer that question.

Mr. Win Griffiths

I will arrange for the hon. Gentleman to receive a copy of our document, which explains those matters. Basically, however, the Welsh Assembly will assume the duties and responsibilities that are currently held by the Welsh Office.

Mr. Richards

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that an assembly would have no executive but merely advisory powers? Is he saying that it would have only the power to advise the Secretary of State?

Mr. Griffiths


Mr. Richards

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify what he is saying? If a Welsh Assembly would take the place of the Welsh Office, it would have no executive powers and merely advise the Secretary of State. Perhaps he does not understand how the Welsh Office works.

Mr. Griffiths

The powers and responsibilities currently held by the Secretary of State for Wales will be vested in the Welsh Assembly.

Mr. Richards

Therefore a Welsh Assembly would assume the powers of the Secretary of State. Will the hon. Gentleman therefore tell us—[Horn. MEMBERS: "No."] The point is very interesting. What would be the Secretary of State's role in the Cabinet? Would he be a messenger boy from the assembly to the Cabinet—or would there be a Secretary of State?

Mr. Griffiths


Mr. Richards

I will let the hon. Gentleman think on that for a moment.

My understanding of the proposed assembly is that some of its members would be elected by proportional representation. It would be composed of 60 representatives: 40 of whom will be territorial, representing each constituency in Wales, and 20 of whom will be elected in a list. I should like to ask a question from the point of view of my and other hon. Members' constituents. If a constituent has an issue that he would like to raise with an assembly—with the executive powers that have been described very loosely by the hon. Member for Bridgend—should he contact his territorial, constituency representative or a list representative—or would there be a two-tier system? How would it operate? We do not know the answer. If the hon. Gentleman or the hon. Member for Cardiff, West have an answer, we should very much like to hear it in the reply to this debate.

I should like to return to the matter of Sianel 4 Cymru. It will be very important to many people in Wales to know whether a Welsh Assembly would take over funding of S4C or whether the Department of National Heritage would continue to do so. It is an important issue, and perhaps the hon. Member for Cardiff, West will deal with it in his reply.

7.4 pm

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

In the early evening a year from now—on the occasion of the next Welsh day debate—I suspect that I shall be putting my feet on the domestic fender, pouring a glass of wine for my wife, talking to the children about the day they have had at school and at university and suffering from a little bit of withdrawal at not being in the House to take part in it. I have now been an hon. Member for 14 years, although I do not even pretend to possess anything like the distinction of the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) or to have the respect that he has earned from all hon. Members. I think that many hon. Members—particularly those of us who know north and mid-Wales well—look on him as the best Secretary of State that Wales never had.

As I look back on my 14 years in the House, I think that I will regard occasions such as this—Welsh day debates, Welsh Grand Committee debates and similar occasions—as perhaps not making very much everyday difference to the way of life of people in Wales, but as demonstrating that a tradition of political understanding and lively political debate continues in Wales as expressed in the House, as it did 100 years ago—when the early ferment of Welsh politics, which was exemplified by Lloyd George, was beginning to develop, and when Welsh politics really began to have an enormous impact on the wider politics of the United Kingdom.

Indeed, I would say to those who have ambitions or are interested in a political career—if that is the right noun to ascribe to it; I have always thought that politics was more an activity than a job or a career—that they could start in no better fashion than by reading the early speeches of David Lloyd George, the speeches of people such as Tom Ellis, the very distinguished former hon. Member who served Merionethshire, or those of other of our Welsh political forebears, on whom of course I look with particular affection.

On the wall of my office in the House is a map—from the "Daily Graphic" of that time—of the result of the 1892 general election, which was presented to me by a constituent during the 1992 general election campaign. It shows every single seat in Wales having fallen to the Liberal party. As I leave the House, I wish that I could deliver the same result to the Welsh Liberal Democrats. I will leave it to the public to judge how well the Welsh Liberal Democrats should do at the next general election. I say without fear, however, that I think that we still have a very important role to play in Welsh politics.

When a Welsh regional tier of government—with its democratic element, in whatever form—is established, I look forward to the flowering within that arena of young talents coming from the Welsh Liberal Democrats. I hope that they will be able to make a very considerable contribution to the politics of Wales. Like, I suspect, the right hon. Member for Conwy and other hon. and right hon. Members leaving the House at the forthcoming general election, I shall miss the House enormously. However, like them, I am beginning to discover that opportunities lie outside the House, which perhaps have around them the framework of real life.

On such an occasion, the temptation is of course to indulge oneself in an exegesis of the breadth of Welsh politics, to offer a blueprint for the future and to try to teach some lessons about mistakes made during one's time in the House, but I do not propose to go down that road. I want to talk about only one specific subject.

I am the son of a doctor. My father came to this country in early middle life and worked in the Polish hospital in Penley. We lived in Ruabon. Then he took a job in the national health service as a general practitioner, running a practice—at first single-handed—in Burnley, an industrial town in Lancashire. For many decades, we lived in the house that contained his surgery. I remember hearing from my bedroom window the clacking of the clogs as the cotton workers walked along Trafalgar street to the cotton mills at 5.30 every morning. That was a familiar sound until the mid-1950s. Many of my father's patients were cotton workers, until the cotton industry closed. Another large slice of his patients were coal miners, who came not only from Lancashire, but from Wales, Italy, Poland and Hungary. They came from everywhere. Now the coal mines have closed.

Many of my father's patients lived in streets that evoke in my mind wonderful memories of childhood—Rowley street and Sackville street. They were little slum streets of that great industrial Lancashire town which had already suffered, between the turn of the century and the middle, a decline in its population of almost 50 per cent. The planners—I make no criticism of the political party in charge at the time, although it will not be difficult to guess which party ran Burnley county borough in the 1950s—took the view that the slums should be removed and replaced with beautiful housing estates. Of course, that did not work, and the result was disjointed communities. I still visit Burnley occasionally, because my widowed mother lives there, and I also like to go to Turf Moor, as I have since I was five and a half years old. Burnley still has a community spirit, but it is fighting to retain it.

My father started his life practising medicine as a specialist in central Europe before he became a general practitioner in Lancashire. He used to say to me that the most important social change that had happened in any country this century was the introduction of the national health service. I used to go out on his rounds with him in his Austin A30, not only because the nice ladies in Rowley street gave me sweets, but because I enjoyed his company and the education he gave me, which has stayed with me throughout my life and long after his death.

My father used to say that whether a person was a prince or a pauper—he told me to remember that all princes were bandits once—the national health service treated him the same. If my father chose, as a general practitioner, to send a patient to Professor Charnley in Preston for one of the early hip replacement operations, he could do so as a matter of right, because that was his diagnosis. If he chose to send a patient for a specialist consultation in London, because he judged that the best thoracic surgeon was there, he could do so, as long as he made his choice intelligently. He was greatly respected for the way in which he ran his practice, and his message about the value of the national health service has been imbued in me.

I have continued to take a close interest in medicine and health issues during my life and during my time in the House. I have done it professionally, through my legal practice, and politically. Like the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), I am a lay member of the General Medical Council. I have been one for some eight years now, and I have learnt a lot about the effect of Government policies on the health service from a different viewpoint, well away from the House.

During my representation of the wonderful county of Montgomeryshire, I have seen the treatment of people's health suffer because of the Government's policies. I regret that. I say in all sincerity to the Under-Secretary that I accept that the Government have not been malevolent, but they have got their policies wrong. The national health service, which my father taught me to believe benefited everyone equally, does not benefit everyone equally any more. That principle has been abandoned—wrongly.

The Secretary of State alluded to the community hospitals in the Dyfed Powys health authority area. There could be no worse example of the way in which people have been regarded not as patients, but as pawns, than the behaviour of that health authority. I am delighted to read in my local newspapers that the Under-Secretary has condemned Dyfed Powys health authority for its behaviour, which should be put on record.

On 23 December 1996, the health authority, deliberately behaving in a Scrooge-like fashion, issued a statement that included the judgment from its powerful position that eight community hospitals in the old counties of Dyfed and Powys would have to close. That was an appalling time to issue the statement and it caused widespread anxiety over Christmas and the new year among staff, patients and potential patients.

On the day the press release was issued, I took the trouble to write to Mrs. Vanessa Bourne, the so-called chairman of the authority, to ask her to reveal to me, as a Member of Parliament for the area concerned, which eight community hospitals she intended to close, and to supply the background papers that justified her conclusion. I received a response of an arrogance that would shock even hon. Members. I wrote to her again. I asked again to see the background papers and I asked which hospitals would be closed. After many weeks, I still await a response to that letter.

The health authority released a further press statement in which every member of the health authority had a little sentence quoted, including references to politicians as though we were the ignorant detritus of society. Those arrogant people should remember that they have been appointed by politicians, and that they are accountable through their board and via politicians to the House. The health authority has produced a plan with no background papers, which refers to no individual hospital, which has no quality learning behind it—the health authority has not denied those facts—and which has caused panic throughout mid-Wales.

Last week in Llanidloes, 1,000 people attended a public meeting about the future of Llanidloes hospital, which is a wonderful community hospital which could be held out as an example to the world, let alone to rural Wales. I regret that the Conservative party failed to send a spokesman to that meeting. Unfortunately, excuses were made. The feeling of the meeting was clear.

This afternoon, the Secretary of State issued a severe rebuke to Dyfed Powys health authority. I hope that that rebuke will be carried through to its logical conclusion, which should include the dismissal of the chairman of the health authority, followed by the resignation of her board. Apparently, the Government believe that the disciplines of management and private industry should be applied to the national health service. I do not disagree that management discipline is useful in the public service. However, if that board and that chairman had been employed by a company in Wales—such as Control Techniques or Laura Ashley, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Conwy—the major shareholders would have had them out by midnight. The Government should have that lot out by midnight.

I wish to mention one further national health service issue that is more directly related to my upbringing as a general practitioner's son. Since I went to live in the Welshpool and Newtown area of mid-Wales, I have been the patient of a doctor in Llanfair Caereinion. He is a partner in an excellent practice, and a doctor with political principles. I do not know for which party he votes, but I know that his political principles belong on our side, rather than the Conservative side, of the House.

On principle, and with his partners' agreement, my doctor has chosen not to be a fundholder. There is one similar practice in the area at Westbury in Shropshire, on the border, and about half the patients of that practice live in my constituency.

If I want treatment under the national health service, I am now at a disadvantage; the hospitals where it is provided delay my treatment because my general practitioner, on the basis of a well-thought-out belief and judgment, does not wish to follow the Government's encouragement to have a fundholding practice.

That is not the national health service that my father taught me to respect. It is not the national health service that Lloyd George and others created in this country, and taught this country to respect. It is a national health service infected by greed and devil-take-the-hindmost. That is not the national health service that we want.

As I depart this place and leave politics, I regret above all things the fact that the national health service seems to be in worse fettle than when I entered the House 14 years ago. I hope that the next generation of Welsh politicians will heed the message, and will do what they can to ensure that the great tradition of Welsh politicians who have sought better health for their constituents is maintained for future generations.

7.21 pm
Sir Raymond Powell (Ogmore)

I regret the fact that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) is leaving the House—although I get on well with all his Liberal colleagues in the House, too, and have done since I was the Opposition pairing Whip. I have always listened attentively to the hon. and learned Gentleman's speeches, and today was no exception, especially when he was reminiscing about his father and the fact that in the area where he lived he could hear the cotton workers walking across the cobblestones.

Although the Western Mail last week printed my birthplace as Machynlleth, I was not born and bred anywhere near there; I was born in Treorchy, in the Rhondda valley. I am proud of my birth and heritage, and of the people of the Rhondda, who are no different from the people in Ogmore, the constituency that I represent now, or from the people of the other valleys.

The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned Lloyd George and the national health service, but I have read and reread all the words uttered by Nye Bevan during the introduction of the national health service—something that the nation could be proud of. However, the health service has gradually been eroded and left underfunded by the present Administration.

I also share the views that the hon. and learned Gentleman expressed about the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts), who is one of the Secretaries of State we never had. The right hon. Gentleman deserved the office, there is no doubt about that. It used to annoy me every time a Secretary of State was appointed from the other side of Offa's dyke, when everyone in all the parties in the House knew that there was a Member from Wales who could, and would, do the job. Undoubtedly, he would have been nearer to us, because he is from Wales. It annoys me to think that, in the past 18 years, we have had five Secretaries of State for Wales, all of whom were living outside Wales.

I must get on to the subject of my speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or you will be calling me to order. What I wanted to say is that this debate could prove historic. The annual St. David's day debate for 1997 is taking place in the year of the general election that will end 18 years of the most vicious Conservative Government this country has ever known.

I could spend some time telling the story of the industrial rape of Wales that has taken place over those 18 years, but most of my constituents are already well aware of that story, and the other electors of Wales know the nightmare only too well, because they have suffered, and will continue to suffer until a new Government with vision and policies for change are elected. That cannot be much more than 63 days away.

All my time in Parliament has been spent in opposition, but I will fight the next election to retain my seat in Ogmore and cross the floor to the Government Benches. The electors throughout the Principality are crying out for the opportunity to vote; they are crying out for change. They will vote in their traditional way, but this time they will look to the English constituencies, hoping that this time they, too, will want to see change.

We have seen the number of Conservative Members in Wales reduced to six, and this election we shall see a Conservative-free Wales. Despite what the press and the other media say about politicians, there will be dancing in the streets and celebrations when the electors give their verdict, perhaps on 1 May—the day on which we in Ogmore have always celebrated May day. This year, we shall have something else to celebrate—a Labour victory.

Last week, we had a debate on the constitution. I suggest that hon. Members who could not attend read the Official Report of that debate; but, although I have nothing but praise for the Hansard writers, they could not capture the atmosphere of the occasion, or the sincerity of most of the speeches. Many more hon. Members wished to contribute as well, but time was not on their side.

I said that this debate could prove historic. It is being held on the day of the Wirral, South by-election, which could put the Government in a minority. If a vote of confidence is called, the election could come early. The debate could be historic for another reason too—it is being held on the eve of the Wales Labour party conference, which will be asked to agree the Welsh Labour party executive committee's proposals for devolution.

In the 1970s, I was party to what was then the vision for the future. That is what Labour party activists called the strongly held views of supporters of devolving government to an elected Welsh Assembly. Mixing reflection, memory, reality and truth, I recall the mood of members of the Labour party in Wales when they met in Llandudno in 1977.

That conference, which I chaired, adopted the document prepared by the executive committee for the introduction by the Labour Government of a Wales Act. Hansard for that period will give details of the discussions and decisions. No doubt history will record who was responsible for that lost opportunity. Now, 20 years later, we again have the opportunity to seek a reversal—the opportunity to present to the people of Wales, by their agreement in a referendum, the devolution of power to an elected assembly.

At least some of our efforts in the 1970s have not been wasted. At that time, we argued for an elected assembly with unitary authorities, and some power going to community councils at the local roots. Over the past two years, 22 unitary authorities, covering the whole of Wales, have been established. That is a major step forward, and it is one to be welcomed. I hope that, following devolution, the Welsh Assembly will deal with the escalating problems—including the lack of finance and the system of allocation of funding, which is tightly controlled by the Secretary of State. I hope that this will be remedied by an elected assembly. The £7 billion budget that is now allocated and controlled by the Secretary of State—added to the 180 quangos under his responsibility, which spend more than £2.5 billion and have 850 appointees—is a reason for democratic accountability to be introduced under a Welsh Assembly.

The fears of the Prime Minister and Conservative Members that Welsh devolution threatens the fabric of our unitary state are totally unfounded. The debate last Thursday on the constitution tended to concentrate on Scotland and the House of Lords, and much was said about the West Lothian question. Some suggest that it is insoluble, instead of seeking some way of resolving it. Those who read the Hansard report of last Thursday's debate will have seen that my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland)—in an excellent speech—spoke on the English regions and suggested that English regional government provides part of the answer to the West Lothian question. One of the major reasons why the devolution proposals in 1977 and 1978 failed was undoubtedly the lack of realistic and rational thought on English regional government. I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend give the details of the progress that has been made in the creation of the North of England Assembly of Local Authorities. I hope that other English regions will follow that lead.

We have the problem in reverse in Wales. Where is the justice in allowing English Members to speak and vote on business which is exclusively the interest of the Welsh nation? Where is the justice when English Members are elected to Committees to provide the Government with a majority to get their business through? Where is the justice in allowing a large number of English Members to table questions for Welsh question time, thus depriving Welsh Members of their only opportunity each month to ask the Secretary of State questions applicable to Wales and to their constituencies? They have no other parliamentary opportunity. Where is the justice in having a Secretary of State for Wales—the controller of the Welsh Office—who is not a Welsh Member of Parliament? In the past 18 years, we have had five Secretaries of State for Wales, none of whom has represented a Welsh constituency.

Much has been said about the reformed Welsh Grand Committee, but the Committee of Selection has to appoint the Secretary of State and other English Members to enable them to sit on the Committee so that the Government have a majority. On one occasion, when Peter Walker turned up to start a debate at the Welsh Grand Committee, he was challenged on a point of order and the Committee of Selection had to be recalled to appoint him and others before the business could proceed. There is talk that a solution might be to reduce the number of Welsh Members of Parliament, but it is unthinkable that, as long as Westminster decides on defence, foreign affairs, taxation and social security for Wales, Wales should not continue to be adequately represented at Westminster.

After the election, there will be 72 Scottish Members of Parliament, 40 Welsh Members and 17 Members from Northern Ireland, making a total of 129. There will be 529 English Members of Parliament—so what is there for the Government to fear? Last Thursday, the Prime Minister laid down a challenge that the election would be fought on the constitution and on Scottish and Welsh devolution. The Labour party in Wales is ready for that challenge. The present system of holding the Government to account is deplorable and it is scandalous to allow more money to be spent by unelected and unaccountable quangos than by directly elected local councils. We need to roll back the tide of quangos and revive democracy in local government. The plans for a Welsh Assembly have been set out in detail and we will legislate for their implementation in the first year of a Labour Government.

When discussions were proceeding on our devolution proposals, I made my views known on the questions of a referendum and proportional representation. I am glad that a referendum will be called, and I am confident that, this time, the result will be totally different. In my view, there should be 80 elected members of a Welsh Assembly—based on current parliamentary constituencies and election procedures—with two from each of the 40 parliamentary constituencies. I have also suggested that there should be one male and one female candidate in each constituency. This would be a great step forward towards achieving a fair gender balance, and would avoid the problem of women-only shortlists. It would also signal to all the women in Wales and the rest of the UK that the Labour party wants more women in the Government.

Perhaps this weekend, the women attending the conference at Llandudno will demand a change in the executive committee's proposals and will rebel—like the Tory women of the Wirral who, according to the Evening Standard, are flocking to the polling stations to vote Labour. I hope that they will take up the challenge over the weekend and change the proposals of the executive committee.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) spoke on Thursday and recalled his speeches on the Scotland and Wales Bill and the Wales Bill in 1976 and 1977. He promised the House at that time that we would return to the subject in due course. That was 20 years ago. We have had 20 years to reconsider our policies and to persuade the electors about what devolution would mean to Wales. It has worked, and people are better informed and are responding positively. I believe that devolution will be accepted in the referendum that will follow a Labour victory.

7.37 pm
Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)

It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell)—a friend since I was elected to the House in 1982. I am sure that our friendship will continue after I, too, leave the House at the forthcoming election. It has been my privilege to have been a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee since I was elected, and to have been its Chairman since December 1983. My good health has enabled me not to miss one meeting—and, indeed, not one minute of its proceedings—since I was made Chairman.

With your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to share a few memories with the House before turning to the subject that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) raised.

The first highlight I remember was the promise, made in 1983 by the then Secretary of State for Wales, that there would be a second cardiac surgery and cardiology centre in Wales. At last, the present Secretary of State said in the debate today that, later this year, the second cardiac centre would open in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). It has been much in demand. As far back as 1983, it was recognised that only slightly fewer than 800 adult open heart operations a year were being carried out in the University hospital of Wales in Cardiff, when the need was for at least 1,300.

It is always a bad idea in politics to claim credit for anything, but the Welsh Affairs Committee was at least partly responsible for eliciting one statement from the consultant cardiologist at the Heath hospital in Cardiff which influenced Ministers in the Welsh Office: he wrote to the Committee saying that patients were dying on the wards because of the lack of intensive care facilities. The response was fast, and a promise was made that the new centre would be delivered.

In 1983, the Welsh Office and the Department of the Environment issued waste management paper 25, concerning clinical waste disposal in England and Wales. Unfortunately, the Welsh Office issued it to local authorities in Wales and not to health authorities. At that time, responsibility for monitoring all emissions to air of hospital incinerators lay firmly with health authorities, and it was a major surprise to them to find that out when they came before the Committee in January 1990.

The Welsh Office responded in a wonderful way: it dispatched a civil servant to write a letter to us saying that, with hindsight, it was difficult to understand how the situation had come about and that new guidance was being issued to all health authorities in Wales laying responsibility on them.

I remember an outbreak of anthrax on Singret farm, just outside the village of Llay, near Wrexham. The Welsh Office was intent on prosecuting the farmer for allowing slurry to run over the land around the farm, but the Committee was able to persuade the then Secretary of State, now Lord Walker, to pay compensation, purely as a one-off ex gratia payment, of £600,000 to the farmer, to enable him to carry on with the essential work of clearing up the major problem on his pig farm.

Rechem International, now owned by Shanks and McEwan, presented an interesting problem because of the incineration of polychlorinated biphenyls at the plant in Pontypool. For many years, there was a running battle between the company and the community of New Inn around the incinerator.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) and I were delighted to be able to persuade the Welsh Office to take a major step forward in setting up an independent monitoring system under the august leadership of Professor Lewis Roberts, the eminent chemist at the university of East Anglia. That enabled people to be confident that the emissions did not pose any further significant health risks.

We enjoyed considering planning in the open countryside. We examined six authorities in detail, with pride of place perhaps going to Ceredigion. The way in which it carried out its planning decisions was novel, if I say no more. The view of the chairman of planning was that the Welsh Office had the utmost cheek to interfere in any way by issuing so-called circulars and Acts of Parliament.

We were able to persuade the Welsh Office that the hundreds of houses in the open countryside in Wales, flouting all its circulars and legislation, were a matter to which it should pay some attention. I am delighted that it has at least gone a little way towards preventing the continuation of such a situation, although even this week we were alerted by the Welsh Office local authority commissioner to certain planning applications that are still being decided on the personality of the applicant rather than on planning grounds.

The Secretary of State painted a wonderful picture of the quality of Welsh bathing beaches. European Community directive 160 was introduced in 1976, under a Labour Government, but Conservative Governments subsequently, for as long as 10 years, interpreted the definition of bathing beaches in such a way that there was not one in Wales, and only nine in England, so of course there was no need in Wales to apply the rules on the Escherichia coli and the faecal coliforms specified in the directive.

When the Secretary of State waxes lyrical about the quality of Welsh bathing beaches, he seems to assume that every beach in Wales is a bathing beach. In practice, there are 51 defined bathing beaches in Wales—the so-called Euro-beaches—but many more are not so defined under the directive.

Mr. Richards

The hon. Gentleman has been a distinguished Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, and I for one shall miss him when he departs the House after the general election. He was saying how effective the Committee has been as a watchdog on the Government. Does he agree that it is a great shame that those who watch the affairs of the House in some detail, and write and comment on them, have not paid more attention to the Committee and to how effective it has been over the years? Perhaps he would like to comment on the need for a Welsh Assembly in the light of how effective the Committee has been.

Mr. Wardell

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman looks at the Committee's work in that way. The critical factor about a Welsh Assembly will be whether its presence will lead to improved government for Wales and to more jobs, better housing and better health. In the referendum campaign it will be crucial for those arguments to be demonstrated, because if they cannot be demonstrated the whole exercise will have to be called into question. I look forward to a vigorous assessment.

The Welsh Affairs Committee had to examine the proposed closure of Mynydd Mawr hospital in Tumble—the village I was brought up in, where my father has been the village barber for 64 years—where my mother was an auxiliary nurse and where my sister was a patient for some time.

When the former East Dyfed health authority had the gall to issue a consultation paper the quality of which was so low as to insult the intelligence of the local people, the Committee visited Tumble and was appalled to find that the chief nursing officer of the health authority had never visited the hospital, although he was in large part responsible for drawing up the consultation document.

The quality of this month's Dyfed Powys health authority document shows that it has not learnt the lessons of the old East Dyfed health authority. It is prepared to issue consultation documents that again insult the intelligence of local people. The health authority employs 164 people. If this is the best it can do, we must ask seriously whether the Welsh Office should take over the commissioning of health services there. If this is the quality that it is prepared to deliver, I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that the whole board should be dismissed immediately and someone who knows what quality means should be put at the helm.

I want to consider three or four major points in the document to illustrate the points of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery to ensure that the House understands what is at stake. Like him, I am a member of the General Medical Council and I find it distressing that a health authority should issue such a document. Paragraph 3.3 on page 3 summarises seven jobs of the health authority. The first is assessing health needs. The sixth job that it says it does is to evaluate how we are progressing". Nowhere in the document is there any attempt to assess the extent to which health needs are being met.

To take the example of diabetes—I am proud to be the chairman of all-party diabetic group—the health authority has little idea of the incidence the disease. That was admitted by the Secretary of State for Health when I put that point to him on the Floor two weeks ago. How can the health authority measure what progress is being made to meet the health care needs of diabetic patients in Dyfed Powys when it does not even know how many people with that problem reside there? I could repeat the point across the board, but for it to claim that it is assessing needs when, abysmally, it does not have the necessary information, is the utmost cheek.

In the fourth paragraph on page 17, the authority talks about clinical effectiveness. The report states: Next year we will review one area of clinical practice which is not considered effective. We will then decide either to purchase a significantly reduced level of this service or not purchase it at all. It does not say which area of clinical practice. It has not yet considered the effectiveness of any area of clinical practice, yet that is its function. Why wait until next year when it can do it now? There are 164 people employed in the health authority, which is charged with purchasing health services for its people based on clinical effectiveness, and it is to be done next year. That is its job, but it is not doing it.

Page 23 deals with maternity services and says that Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidelines state that a consultant-led unit should deal with a minimum of 2,000 births per annum, but the document uses the 1983 figures. In a consultation document, the authority cannot tell us how many births there were in Dyfed Powys in each of its hospitals in 1996. Is the health authority so indolent that it cannot be bothered to find out? It does not have the figures for live births for 1993 in Withybush hospital, only those for West Wales general hospital and Bronglais.

My next point makes me more angry than any of the others and was again mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. The Government say that they are committed to community care, but paragraph 16 shows that the health authority is, like the Welsh Office, trying to get the trust to do its dirty work. It does not name the community hospitals that are to be closed; it says that it will leave it to the trusts to decide. The Welsh Office put that system in place and it is its responsibility to ensure that the system is made to work. The Secretary of State appointed the chairman and the non-executive directors of the health authority, which says that it is prepared to support the closure of up to eight community hospitals.

The crucial point that makes me more angry than anything else is the farce—I put it no higher—of the Government's handling of the discharge of patients from hospital and the social care plans drawn up for them. I have seen frail elderly people who have had strokes and major surgery who are in no position to understand a social care plan, for which they have to ask before they can see it. The farce is that social care plans are supposed to identify—this affects not only elderly people, but others who are discharged into the community, such as the mentally ill—how much physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, chiropody or community dentistry is needed. The Government know that there are not enough people in Wales to do that work and fulfil the social care plans.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

I may not have enough time to deal with all the hon. Gentleman's remarks later, so at this important point I should tell him that we will publish shortly—in the next week or so—our assessment of those services in relation to at least three parts of Wales. While he is working himself up into a lather because the provisions are not operating properly, he should recognise that we have an inspectorate to examine operations on the ground. We believe that that information should be put into the public domain, as it soon will be.

Mr. Wardell

I am pleased to hear that, but I do not have confidence that it can be delivered. When the Committee considered severe head injury rehabilitation, we visited the homes of people in different parts of Wales. It was plain that the physiotherapy and occupational therapy that they needed was not available because not enough therapists have been attracted into the health service in Wales to deal with them. If there are not enough physiotherapists in an area, it is a farce to put into a social care plan that someone needs two physiotherapy sessions of two hours a week—or that people with diabetes need a chiropodist every month because they have feet problems.

It is a farce when somebody in the House has to say, "The King is in the altogether. He is as naked as the day that he was born." What is happening—I see it when I go around—is that people are languishing in their homes because the physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and chiropodists are not available. Some manpower planning is necessary. If the Government would say openly, "We agree that there is a huge gap," people would know when they are given social care plans that their delivery is impossible.

I shall finish by saying a few words about dentistry. The Government and dentists have been on a collision course for some time. People do not realise that deregistration can now take place after 15 months. As from this month, there is a difference between what dentists and general medical practitioners may do. People registered with a dentist can be deregistered after 15 months. That is happening in large numbers, and it has important consequences.

If a person is not registered with a dentist, the dentist owes them no duty of care. That is rarely an issue for people until they experience pain of dental origin, but when it occurs they have great difficulty obtaining immediate treatment. The usual chain of events is that a person in excruciating pain, who no longer has an NHS dentist, rings around the area to find a dentist who will take him or her on.

I received a letter this week from my dentist saying that he is no longer prepared to treat me as an NHS patient. He gave me the option of joining BUPA or being treated by him privately. If I were not in a position to pay—fortunately, I am—either BUPA or for the private plan that my dentist has given me, I would turn to my doctor, who would prescribe me analgesics or antibiotics, or I would turn up at the hospital casualty department, but analgesics and antibiotics do not deal with the fundamental cause of pain. GPs are already under great stress, and their problems will be exacerbated by patients turning up at their surgeries, and major casualty departments will have serious difficulties unless they have a maxilla-facial department with doctors and dentists on call. People in great pain inevitably take time off work, which has economic consequences.

The Government have driven the dental profession to leave the national health service on a large scale)and1he people of Wales now find it extremely difficult to find a dentist with whom they can register. I hope that, when he winds up, the Minister will say that the community dental service will be expanded in Wales as a safety net to ensure that the scenario that I have described will not come about.

Sir Raymond Powell

You said at the start of your speech that you are retiring at the general election. As you are an hon. Friend of mine, I wish to say that the speech that you have just delivered is a classic. We have always come and listened to your speeches—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)


Sir Raymond Powell

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I wish you well for the future. The House is grateful for your contribution to Welsh debates and to the Welsh Affairs Committee.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think that I have just proved that my tolerance has no end.

Mr. Wardell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words.

I hope that the Secretary of State for Wales will consult closely the Secretary of State for Social Security to ensure that Benefit Agency offices in Wales do not close. It will be a disgrace if elderly and vulnerable people are denied first-class information on the benefits that they can receive. Indeed, closure would be a severe blow to many of them.

It has been a pleasure to chair the Welsh Affairs Committee. I see around me many right hon. and hon. Members from all political parties who have served that Committee well, and I am grateful to them. They have all, whichever side of the Chamber they sit on, become my friends, and I am delighted that that has happened. The right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) has been a stalwart in the Committee since he joined it, and we have worked extremely well together. I say that with great respect. I have watched the right hon. Gentleman carefully over the years, and learnt quite a few lessons from seeing the balance that he has brought to many debates.

I wish to thank the three Clerks, who are still in the House—David Harrison, Mark Hutton and Philippa Helme—and the staff who have supported them. The work that any Select Committee does relies heavily on its support staff.

It is with, in a sense, regret that the one job I have thoroughly enjoyed since I have been in the House is chairing the Welsh Affairs Committee. I hope that whoever takes over will do as good a job as our former Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). I learnt a lot from him. Before him, there was Mr. Leo Abse, who was famous in the House, and we all learnt a great deal from him, too.

Thank you foryour indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

8.6 pm

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

It is a great honour and privilege to follow the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) tonight. This has been a strange debate, because we have listened to three speeches from hon. Members who will leave the House at the next election: the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts); the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile); and the hon. Member for Gower. Reference has been made to their contributions not only to the House but to Welsh politics.

It is also right to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gower for the part that he has played as Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. Those of us who had the privilege of serving with him on the Committee will remember the tremendous attention to detail that he displayed in all his work. We wish him well in his occupation once he leaves the House.

This has been an interesting debate for members of Plaid Cymru tonight. Two hon. Members—one from either side of the House—have devoted a large part of their speeches to the policy that my party espouses. I did not agree with their interpretation of that policy, but it has been a privilege and honour to listen to other people talking about it.

I drew an analysis of the time spent by the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) when he discussed my party in the debate on the constitution on 20 February, and he did exactly the same tonight. He spent 19 minutes discussing Plaid Cymru, and a mere seven minutes discussing the other Opposition party. It is clear where he thinks opposition to him will come at the next election.

The hon. Gentleman made an interesting and remarkable speech on 20 February, and I shall concentrate on one aspect of it—it would be impossible to deal with all of it in a short speech, because it was so full of inaccuracies. He spoke of Wales's position within the European Union and its entitlement to structural funds from the European Union. That point was alluded to by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies).

I shall do the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West the honour of quoting his speech on 20 February. He said that Wales does not qualify for funding under the objective 1 criteria that currently pertain, and added: Indeed, that status reflects a level of economic deprivation that I would not like to see inflicted on any part of Wales."—[Official Report, 20 February 1997; Vol. 290, c. 1114.] The sad fact is that his party has inflicted it on parts of Wales. Some parts of Wales now have the lowest income levels of any country in the British Isles, and some of the lowest in western Europe.

We have to get one fact relating to European funding absolutely straight: two areas of Wales would qualify under the current criteria. The old counties of Gwynedd and Dyfed easily qualify under those criteria, as do the old coal mining areas of south Wales. The old coal mining valleys of Glamorgan would qualify and, if one included the coal mining valleys of Gwent, south Wales would still be a borderline case. Under the criteria adopted in 1993, both would have received objective 1 funds. The reason why we did not secure those funds is that the Welsh Office did not adopt what I would describe as a robust negotiating position when those matters were discussed in Brussels.

Welsh Office Ministers tell us that they do not want Wales to qualify under objective 1—that was the tone of the remarks of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West and of the Secretary of State during the last Welsh Office Questions. Yet Department of Trade and Industry Ministers were not reticent about parts of England qualifying for objective 1 status; nor were Scottish Office Ministers reticent about parts of Scotland qualifying for objective 1 status.

Scottish Office Ministers went to Brussels, argued their case and secured objective 1 status for the highlands and islands of Scotland; and the Deputy Prime Minister argued the case for Merseyside to be granted objective 1 status. At the same time, the counties of Gwynedd and Dyfed and the valleys of south Wales had an equal claim to qualification for objective 1 status, but the Welsh Office hardly put up a case in Brussels. Those are the facts.

What are the criteria? Let me put them on the record: if an area has less than 75 per cent. per capita of the average EU gross domestic product, it qualifies. The two counties on the western seaboard of Wales therefore qualify, although the old coal mining areas have slightly over the qualifying percentage, at perhaps 76 per cent. or 77 per cent. of average EU GDP. One would have thought that it would be in the interests of Wales to get the increased funding that objective 1 status brings. Ministers tell us that we are talking about an odd £100 million here and there, but the truth is that the extra funding is far greater than that.

I have never claimed that the whole of Wales would qualify for objective 1 status, so the comparison with Ireland is not fair, because the whole of Ireland qualified—or did it? I looked at the figures, and found that it barely qualified. The highlands and islands of Scotland do not technically qualify, because they exceed the 75 per cent. mark, and neither does Merseyside, for the same reason. The fact is that nobody made the case for Wales when these matters were being discussed. It may well be that we can argue about the figures, but what is not arguable is the loss that Wales has suffered as a result of the failure to secure that funding.

We have heard that Ireland benefits substantially from objective 1 status—with a population of around 3.5 million, it receives about £5 billion over five years. With a population of 2.8 million, Wales receives about a tenth of that sum. Would Wales have received substantially more if we had secured objective 1 status? I have calculated that, over five years, the loss to Wales resulting from the failure to secure objective 1 status is about £1 billion. That is a substantial sum.

We have also heard that we might have benefited from cohesion funds, for which Wales would easily qualify. The qualifying standard in that respect is 90 per cent. of GDP, whereas Wales has only 83 per cent.

Mr. Denzil Davies

The hon. Gentleman says that Wales would easily qualify for cohesion funds, but that would be true only if Wales was a member of the Council of Ministers. Is that the proposition he is advancing?

Mr. Jones

Of course, the hon. Gentleman is correct. Under the current rules, only member states can qualify for cohesion funds—but why were cohesion funds established in the first place? They were established because the European Union decided that it was important to have social and economic cohesion in the run-up to economic and monetary union.

Mr. Richards

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jones

No, I listened to the hon. Gentleman, and he must now listen to me.

My point is that the Maastricht treaty contained a specific commitment to social and economic cohesion; accompanying that was a recognition that there would be parts of the European Union that would need assistance to qualify under the strict convergence criteria, which were extremely monetarist in tone. What emerged from negotiations by the Commission and from European Union guidelines was that structural funds were doubled over a period, so as to assist those poorer and peripheral regions. The money was devoted to helping countries such as Wales to qualify, yet Wales gets not a single penny piece more under the regional funds from 1994–99 than we received under the previous regime.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jones

No, I have given way once; I will not give way again. I must finish my point.

The reason why structural funds were increased so substantially was to help countries such as Wales and Scotland and the poorer regions of England.

Mr. Davies

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jones

No, I have made it perfectly clear that I will not give way. The right hon. Gentleman has already had the opportunity to develop his arguments.

Mr. Davies

This is a debate.

Mr. Jones

I did give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Davies


Mr. Jones

Once is enough in the present circumstances.

The structural funds that were devoted to regions such as Wales should have come to Wales. It is a bogus argument to say that Wales would not qualify when it patently does.

There is one other difficulty in relation to regional funding, which is that the way in which Wales is divided for regional fund purposes means that we would not have qualified under the old rules. In other words, the nomenclature of territorial units for statistics II areas divided Wales into two regions, not four. The problem with that is that, as north-west Wales and north-east Wales are joined, and there is a similar pattern in south Wales, the western seaboard of Wales or the valleys of south Wales could not qualify. The Welsh Office has recognised that difficulty, and the Commission is to consider redrawing the map of Wales for European Union funding purposes. Let us hope that this time the Welsh Office gets it right; it will receive Opposition Members' support to ensure that that happens.

There is a clear case for designating the western seaboard of Wales a special region, because it already has Interreg funding. Nonsensically, under the Interreg initiative, the western seaboard of Wales will collect about £10 million over five years, whereas the eastern seaboard of Ireland will receive £70 million. The difference in population accounts for part of the difference, but the main difference is that that part of Ireland has objective 1 status, whereas we have objective 5b status. That is grossly unfair, and even under the current system it is possible for us to ensure that objective 1 status applies to the western seaboard of Wales.

We know that the Commissioner for Regional Policy in Brussels is considering ways of changing the operation of regional funding; she is saying that regional funding will be far more concentrated in years to come. She wants smaller areas to benefit; funding will be more focused. Wales, as it is currently organised and constituted for funding, would lose even more under that system. To ensure that the parts of Wales that should benefit are taken into account, we must bear those factors in mind during renegotiation of regional policy—which will be necessary as we seek expansion into eastern Europe.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

In relation to the next reclassification, which the hon. Gentleman knows is currently a matter to be considered, the area he mentioned covers Clwyd, Dyfed, Gwynedd and Powys. Is he saying that Clwyd and Powys should be separated from Dyfed and Gwynedd, and therefore should not have the best opportunity of participating in bids for European funding? Is that his argument?

Mr. Jones

I did not say that; what I said was clear. The western seaboard of Wales already secures Interreg funding. That area, taken together, would qualify for objective 1 status. The Minister knows well that parts of Clwyd and Powys would qualify, as they currently do, under objective 5b. He also knows well that neither Clwyd nor Powys would qualify for objective 1. I am asking the Welsh Office to argue the case to maximise the benefit for Wales—objective 1 in parts of Wales and objective 5b in other parts of Wales. That is what he should argue for.

Under the scheme that I have proposed, no part of Wales would lose, but more areas would benefit.

I conclude by addressing an important fact that is close to the Minister's heart, and that I hope he comments on when he winds up tonight—the need for us to get cracking with setting up an agri-environmental scheme for the whole of Wales. He knows that it has been said that the Tir Cymen scheme is wonderful. The environmentally sensitive areas that we are developing—the best bits of Tir Cymen—are being taken on board. We also have several other small agri-environmental schemes.

I was very surprised to hear the Secretary of State talk about the review of Tir Cymen. I should have thought that we have now had a good deal of experience of that scheme, which is very beneficial and is welcomed by farmers. Five years ago, farmers probably would not have embraced Tir Cymen as they have, and we would not have witnessed the developments in the environmentally sensitive area schemes.

The time has come for the Welsh Office to make up its mind. Is it in favour of an all-Wales scheme? If so, how will such a scheme be funded—may we be told today? We know that an analysis by Professor Gareth Wyn Jones says that the net cost of that scheme would be about £20 million to £25 million. Does the Welsh Office agree? It is very important for Welsh farmers especially to know before the general election the position of the Conservative party and the Government on that issue, and I hope that the Minister will have something to say about that.

8.25 pm
Mr. Alan W. Williams Carmarthen)

In today's debate there has been an end-of-term feeling, with three Members—the right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts), the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell)—probably making their final contribution to our annual Welsh day debate. I add to the tributes that hon. Members have paid to their invaluable contributions to our debates over the years, and wish them well in their future careers, be they in the other place or elsewhere.

I want to discuss devolution. To emphasise the end-of-term feeling, this will be the last speech, as it were, by a Member representing the Carmarthen constituency. It is an historic constituency, which has produced many surprises at general elections, but at the next general election it splits. There will be two Members—both Labour, we hope—one for Carmarthen West and Pembrokeshire South, and myself as the candidate for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.

Were it not for the Carmarthen constituency, the subject of devolution might not have been debated as vigorously as it has been in the past few months—or as vigorously as it will be in the next few months. In a by-election in 1966, Carmarthen returned the first nationalist Member of Parliament, Gwynfor Evans. That was a sea change in Celtic politics because, within a year, at a by-election in Scotland, the first Scottish nationalist Member was returned, and between 1970 and 1974 the nationalist parties peaked at a total of 12 or 14 Members of Parliament.

At about that time, the Conservative and Labour parties thought much about the constitution, and whether it should take account of the call for greater say in our government in Wales and in Scotland. I have been very much affected by such arguments. My regular contestants are the Conservative and Welsh national parties; I take an interest in what they say, and must rebut their arguments.

My commitment to devolution predates the 1966 by-election in Carmarthen. As a young student at Oxford, I attended a Liberal club meeting on decentralisation. I cannot remember whether Jo Grimond or Jeremy Thorpe spoke, but I do remember being very impressed generally by the arguments made that evening—that Britain has a uniquely centralist form of government, that in every country in Europe and most countries worldwide, there is much stronger local or regional government, and that it would be sensible if, in our structures, more power was devolved to the regions.

I have always thought of devolution to Wales and Scotland in the wider context of regional government throughout Britain. Over the years, the system that I have come to admire is the German lander system, which allows strong local government. Some of the lander are controlled by the SPD, some by the Christian Democrats and some by Green-SPD alliances. The Liberal party and the FBT are also involved. I should like to see a similar form of government evolve in Britain.

I did not join the Labour party until 1977. I was not politically active until then. In 1977, however, it was very much our policy to set up assemblies for Wales and Scotland, and in 1979 I worked hard on the campaign to establish an assembly in Wales. Unfortunately, the result of that campaign was strong opposition to such an assembly—and we felt that during the campaign, even in Carmarthen, in south Wales. It was difficult to persuade our party members to work for the campaign. Nevertheless, as the Government will recognise by the end of the year, opinion has changed profoundly.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman—who was obviously involved in that campaign, as I was—recalls that, some time before the campaign started, opinion polls were saying that people in Wales were in favour of an assembly. In fact, the Western Mail published the result of a poll to that effect. What the hon. Gentleman is describing is the way in which opinion changed during the referendum campaign itself. Does he share that view?

Mr. Williams

I accept that. Before the referendum, many opinion polls were very encouraging, in that they indicated support for an assembly. What they did not take into account was the party's opposition at grass-roots level, which is a statistical fact.

During the 1980s, the feeling changed substantially, mainly because of a succession of Conservative Governments. The people of Wales and Scotland are left of centre, and the fact that we have had 18 years of Conservative rule has been deeply frustrating for them. They feel that, if there were a Parliament in Edinburgh and an assembly in Cardiff, those bodies would act as bulwarks against the excesses of Conservative Governments.

Another reason for the change of feeling is the Conservative party's treatment of quangos—the increase in their budgets and their powers, and, more particularly, the way in which their membership has been manipulated so that the people of Wales are not represented. That is true at all levels: it applies to trusts, the Welsh Development Agency and the development board. Conservative placemen are put in charge of the whole plethora of quangos, and people have become very cynical about their composition.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) made some excellent comments about Dyfed Powys health authority. The Minister is currently a victim of one of its directives—or, at least, of a consultative paper. The authority seems to have no accountability. I do not quite echo the hon. and learned Gentleman's call for the resignation of its members, but I certainly think that the document should be scrapped, and that the authority should return to square one. As a quango, it illustrates the democratic deficit.

A third reason for the sea change in public opinion is that the last four Secretaries of State for Wales have not come from Wales. Lord Crickhowell, formerly Member of Parliament for Pembroke, was not very popular, and did not have a typically Welsh personality; none the less, he was from Wales, and represented a Welsh constituency.

I am not anti-English, and I acknowledge the validity of the West Lothian question, but there is something curious about the fact that the last four Secretaries of State have been the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and his predecessors the right hon. Members for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and the former Members of Parliament for Wirral and for Worcester. None of them was elected by any of the people of Wales, yet they have run the Welsh Office. The current Secretary of State is affable and able, and has many good qualities, but why should he decide how much should be spent on health, social services and highways in Wales, and where bypasses in Wales should be built? He has only got to know Wales in the past three or four years.

I know that our policy in favour of an assembly for Wales is not robust enough for some elements of Welsh public opinion. That obviously applies to the Welsh national party, and it may apply to some members of the Labour and Liberal parties. In the past 15 years, however, we have sincerely tried to develop a consensus—a policy on which the people of Wales can unite.

That consensus will achieve two main objectives. First, it will democratise the Welsh Office, so that decisions currently taken without accountability by civil servants working under the Secretary of State's direction will be discussed much more thoroughly. Such a forum will lead to better decision-making. Secondly, it will allow us to make quangos more accountable.

Later this year, once we have a Labour Government again, there will be referendums. By autumn, there will have been referendums in Wales and Scotland. It is often forgotten that we also propose an all-London body to take over the responsibilities of the old Greater London council—again, subject to a referendum. We propose proportional representation, or a strong element of it, to provide a wider base and more accurately reflect the political geography of Wales.

I see the assemblies in Wales and London, and the Parliament in Scotland, as part of a much more long-term trend. Once the Scottish Assembly has been established—within three to five years—the north-east and north-west of England will no doubt demand their own assemblies, again subject to referendums, and those assemblies should be granted. In the next 10 years, under continuing Labour or Liberal-Labour Governments, the people of the south-east, the south and East Anglia will begin to look at what is happening in the north and in Scotland, and will think, "We could have a Tory-controlled assembly in our area." They will realise that the powers that those other bodies have are very proper, and gradually, over 10 or 20 years, we shall move towards that lander system in which governments share power. Central Government will remain at Westminster, but there will, very properly, be a regional tier.

I was encouraged, although not surprised, by what the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) said last Sunday. I watched the interview live on Sunday morning, and I was impressed by his comments. Of course, he has more time to examine the issues than the rest of us. I have a transcript of what he said. First, there was his put-down of what the Prime Minister had said about breaking the nation: he said how absurd that was.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

May I put the record straight? The hon. Gentleman may recall that, when the last Labour Government presented a Bill to introduce evolution, a number of Labour Members voted against it or abstained. Five Conservatives voted with the Labour party, one of whom was my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). He has held that view for a number of years.

Mr. Williams

Absolutely. He has been consistent on many issues over the years. I respect him greatly for that, and for his judgment. History might have been quite different if he had been around during the last 20 years. This is what he said last Sunday morning: If we"— a Conservative Government— had been returned in 1974, we would have gone ahead with it, because we believed it was for the good of the UK as well as of Scotland … We gave this system to Canada, we gave it to Australia, we gave it to South Africa, we gave it to Central Africa, we gave it to the Caribbean, and with the Americans and the French we gave it to Germany. Handled clumsily, regional government, a strong regional tier, could threaten to split the United Kingdom; but handled properly, and in an evolutionary way, it would markedly improve the government of the United Kingdom.

8.39 pm
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) in commending the contribution to the House of the three hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, who are to retire. We heard three remarkable valedictory speeches. Each of those hon. Members is a very considerable parliamentarian, with different contributions. One was a Minister of long standing on the Conservative Benches. Another is a distinguished lawyer, who has brought his experience and expertise in the law very effectively to the House. Finally, there is my good friend and neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), who is a much more distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs than was his predecessor.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gower has shown tonight that he has a great grasp of detail of the Welsh scene. I was interested in what he and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said about the recent initiative of the chairman of Dyfed Powys health authority. I hope that, given the consensus in certain areas of the debate, I can make a proposal that will be accepted by both sides of the House. If the Government sack the chairman of Dyfed Powys health authority, a good and obvious successor would be a gentleman who still lives in the area of the health authority, who hails from Tumbl—whether upper or lower Tumble, I am not sure—and who will reside in Carmarthen, teaching at the college there. Therefore, I formally propose to the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Gower should become chairman of Dyfed Powys health authority.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Do we have a seconder?

Mr. Anderson

Perhaps you will accept my motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

More seriously, I wish to make two points. I shall not ask the Minister for an answer tonight, but I respectfully urge him to examine demand-led element funding within the further education sector, and the impact that removal of that funding would have on further education in Wales. That matter is causing great concern in Wales. I understand that a decision is imminent. Perhaps he will write to me about it.

We had a debate in the House on 19 February, during which only English Members spoke, mainly from the north-west. The situation in Wales, however, is very different. In my judgment, there should be a Welsh solution to the problem, which would not result in exceeding existing budgets. The Minister will know that DLE funding in Wales has been used to enable mainstream growth in FE for the 16 to 19 age group, and, more important in some ways, to widen participation for adults. There is not a franchise problem in Wales, as there is in England.

I commend the Government for their initiative on DLE funding, which has enabled extra, cost-effective growth. For example, in the current year, DLE payments will reach £4.5 million, which will result in an extra 20,000 students. Swansea college—first under the distinguished but just retired principal, Cyril Lewis, and now under principal Keith Elliott—has the Eastside initiative, which particularly helps disadvantaged groups in my constituency. I opened the Morriston office of the Eastside initiative. It is reaching out to groups that would not otherwise come into contact with continuing education.

Swansea college is already 22 per cent. above target. The result of removing DLE for 1997–98 would be a severe reduction of provision, affecting 16 to 19-year-old students, and particularly the wider groups of adults who have been so beneficially affected by the Eastside initiative in my constituency.

In Wales, it cannot seriously be argued by the Government that the DLE is out of control. Wales is not three years in arrears, as in England. The FE sector in Wales has achieved controlled growth in the number of students since 1993. In my view, there should be a Welsh solution in the Welsh Office to the problem, which is essentially different from that in England. As the Minister will know, principals in FE colleges have a four-year cycle. There is now a real danger—the problem is imminent—that DLE funding will be removed, which would have a major and adverse affect.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)

There is a unique Welsh institution in my constituency, St. David's college, which is the only sixth form college in Wales. The principal tells me that each student at that college receives between £400 and £500 less than students in similar English institutions, that it had to bear a 14 per cent. cut in funding last year, and that it will have to bear a cut of 19 per cent. in the next three years, even though it is very successful and is educating more students each year.

Mr. Anderson

And it is doing what the Government want, in terms of extending education in that key group. My hon. Friend makes a similar point to mine.

I understand that the Welsh Office was originally sympathetic to the continuation of the scheme, but the problem arose when English authorities and the English Department for Education and Employment became involved and suggested that there should not be a Welsh solution. Our problems are difficult, but with good will, surely we can provide a solution within Wales. I do not expect an answer when the Minister winds up, but I hope that he will respond seriously to the real problem that FE colleges face. What is the purpose of the Welsh Office, if it cannot take independent decisions on matters that affect Wales? I hope that we are not carried in the slipstream of England in such matters, when our problems are fundamentally different.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen and the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) mentioned the Welsh question. There is indeed a Welsh question. It is sad that in last Thursday's debate on the constitution, only four of my Welsh colleagues were able to speak. We felt somewhat marginalised, as if it was a case of for Wales read England, or, perhaps, for Wales read Scotland.

I shall comment on the themes that the Government put forward in respect of their absolutist, no-change policy. The Prime Minister said that the debate should be the start of a great debate on the constitution. I have been around for some time, and recall that, after the defeat of the proposal of the Labour Government of 1974–79, the then Secretary of State for Wales, now Lord Crickhowell, made a similar proposal for a great debate. He talked about the possibility of a Welsh council, and the need for a strategic group within Wales. The idea may have been flawed, but at least it was speedily forgotten.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

The hon. Gentleman is right. I recall Lord Crickhowell saying at that time that he did not think that the 1979 vote was the end of the debate. That vote had its effect on the political parties. For instance, Plaid Cymru, which believes in independence for Wales, had virtually two lines on devolution in its 1979 manifesto. There is no doubt that the result was regarded as a sea change, even though it is right to remark on the fact that Lord Crickhowell said that the debate should continue.

Mr. Anderson

It was the elephant on the doorstep: no one can gainsay that. But Lord Crickhowell made a pledge to initiate a debate. I merely ask: what is the Government's motive in seeking to raise this debate now? Are they not indulging in the politics of fear? As we approach the election, the Government are trying to wrap themselves in a flag. That is the essence of a unionist party. They want to bang the anti-foreign drum, especially on Europe, and to wrap themselves in the flag on Scotland and Wales. They are, in effect, reducing themselves to an English national party. It is not serious or credible politics.

Amid the debates about constitutional change, it is sad that the Government have set their face against any form of change. That contrasts with the 1970s, when many hon. Members who are now on the Government Benches were openly saying that problems of governance had to be addressed. There is a range of problems: the House of Lords, the incorporation of the European convention on human rights, our voting system and the governance of Wales and Scotland. It is incredible that the governing party takes an absolutist no position on all those major issues.

That is not how our constitution evolved. When problems arise, our political system usually evolves to accommodate them. Like it or not, there is a Scottish question, and, to a lesser extent, a Welsh question. It is absurd that the Conservative party has traditionally set itself against any change until that change becomes a tradition. We saw that happen with the Welsh Development Agency and with the Welsh Office.

Another of the Government's themes is their argument that devolution will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. Failure to recognise the Scottish problem and the Welsh problem is more likely to lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. It is insulting to say that the people of Wales and Scotland are so politically unsophisticated that a degree of decentralisation, and an exercise in democratic control over the cluster of administrative bodies in Edinburgh and in Cardiff, will inevitably lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, whereas Catalonia, Rhône-Alpes and the other motor regions that the Welsh Office and the Government want to link up with can have experiments in decentralisation without people fearing that those countries will break up. Germany has the länder: because of its history, Bavaria is different from Nordrhein Westphalia. There is devolution à la carte in Spain, where Catalonia is more prosperous and has a more developed sense of identity than Valencia.

There are different models. History will find the Government funny peculiar in saying that, despite all these great debates, we cannot have any change. In the 1970s, the Conservative party was prepared seriously to enter into a debate to address real problems. Now there is a total veto and it rejects any change.

Alas, last Thursday and now, Conservative Members have parroted the West Lothian question as if its mere repetition will end the argument. Of course it is a serious question, and I concede that at one level it is unanswerable. It should be put in the context of the problem, and we should seek to address that problem, with all the disadvantages that may indeed flow. We should also take into account the Northern Irish precedent, and the possibility of an English Grand Committee.

I accept that that may mean moving to a quasi-federal solution. Everyone accepts that the proposed changes for Scotland and Wales are a transitional position, and that they will move in different ways. There may be English assemblies. At least there will be a debate on the nature of our constitution. We should not be frightened into saying that at the end of the road the United Kingdom will be broken up. The objective is to allow ordinary people to have a greater say in the governance of their country.

I played a role in the 1970s debate. At that time I was, on balance, against the proposals of my own party, and I voted consistently against them. I am now, on balance, in favour of my party's proposals. I do not pretend in an absolutist way that there are not advantages and disadvantages: as with all political problems, there are pros and cons.

I shall mention the factors that have induced me to change my mind—I shall just give the headlines because of the time. The first factor is the Thatcherite centralisation and the removal or neutering of the intermediary bodies between the state and the citizen, such as local government, which has been put in a greater financial straitjacket, and the trade unions. I have already mentioned the European dimension. I envisage a cluster of institutions in Brussels, another in London and another in Cardiff, each with its own form of democratic control. The second factor is the identity of Wales, which I believe is of value and should be enhanced by a Welsh Assembly.

I am not alone in changing my position. I read the interesting interview with David Waterstone in the Western Mail, which I thought was extremely significant. I recently met a senior business man who is known to many of us. He told me that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was the missionary who converted him to devolution. When the right hon. Gentleman slashed the grant to the Countryside Commission for Wales by half, and there was nothing we could do about it—we had no say, and there was no accountability—that business man began to ask various questions about the governance of Wales.

Quangos have been used ruthlessly by the Government, who cannot win by democratic means. They have filled them with their placemen. I shall not mention poor Dr. Gwyn Jones—my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) has been doing a demolition job on the learned doctor for some time. The man who is now the Conservative candidate for Worcester is an able and likeable man, but he had hardly arrived in my city before he was put on a health authority. Many people were born and brought up there and have served the city well, but they have no serious prospect of getting on the Conservative quango. That sort of thing annoys ordinary, right-thinking people, who may not be politically minded otherwise.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

Was the hon. Gentleman here when the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) said how balanced the board of the Welsh Development Agency was, because it had trade union and local government representatives, and all the rest of it?

Mr. Anderson

This is something of a death-bed repentance. If I and the Minister, who is a reasonable man, except when he speaks from the Front Bench, were to have a cup of tea and to consider the history of Conservative appointments to the Welsh Development Agency, the pattern until now and the recent change, we would both come to the same conclusion, which would not be encouraging to the Government.

Another factor is that there is now an increasing feeling of togetherness in Wales and the building of a Welsh community and identity, partly—and I commend the Government for this—because of their Welsh Language Act 1993, which has been a positive development. Language could be so divisive in Wales, as it is in places such as Belgium. Historians will give great credit to the Government for the Act, which builds on consensus and has helped to remove part of the potential divisiveness within the Welsh polity.

I hope that the assembly will develop Welsh consciousness, which is, alas, all too lacking in our present age. I have a nightmare of a Murdoch-run age, with everyone speaking in mid-atlantic accents and watching the same shows. There is some value in diversity, which I hope the assembly will reflect.

That is why I applaud the form of proportional representation that has been proposed by the Labour party. The proposal starts from the basis that there should be a reasonable number of Members—60 Members—and that the electoral areas should be well known. That is why we have selected the Westminster constituencies and the Euro-constituencies. It also accepts that there should be an attempt to include everyone in Wales, and hence to ensure that people from each part of Wales are represented in the new assembly, according to the strength of their party. That is a good starting point. In so far as electoral systems can have consequences, that will be a means of bringing the diversity of Wales together.

In that context, I find the attitude of Plaid Cymru puzzling. It is being coy and says that we cannot count on its support in the referendum. Is it a party, or is it a pressure group? Is it trying to be serious, or is it playing games? It must know that, historically, a chance to make a change of this substance comes only once in a generation or so.

Think back to 1966, when the Welsh Office was formed. Some people said, "This is such a puny creature. We do not want it. People might vote against it." Let us compare the Welsh Office of today to the Welsh Office of 1966. It has moved sensibly, with additions by the Government and by my party, according to the wishes of the people of Wales, and at the speed that they wanted.

It is absolutely absurd for Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalists, to say that we cannot count on them. They must know that this is the historic opportunity to bring greater democracy to the governance of Wales. If they seek to sabotage or not to help that process, they will do a great disservice to the people of Wales. The giant step is to get an assembly. Thereafter, it will move as fast and as far as the people of Wales want.

I have set out my personal credo of why I have moved in respect of Welsh devolution. There is a Welsh dimension and it is of value. Obviously, as we saw last Thursday, there cannot be a serious debate before the general election, but I hope that afterwards there will be such a debate up to the referendums in September—a healthy national debate, building on the strength of our community and on our identity, which is diverse, real and of value, when globalisation and all the forces that internationalise us can lead to such a dreary sameness.

9.3 pm

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

This has been a remarkable St. David's day debate on Welsh affairs for many reasons. First, it is the last St. David's day debate before an election, which on present form looks as though it may bring to an end, within eight or nine weeks, 18 years of continuous government by the Conservative party. Secondly, the debate coincides with a by-election in the Wirral, which again, according to form—we do not know what has happened today—may put the Government in a minority position for the first time in 18 years.

Thirdly, the debate has been remarkable because of the retirements that have been celebrated in the valedictory addresses, which we have heard from three corners of the House, if I can put it that way. The right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) said goodbye to such debates in his inimitable style as an old Harrovian, with the emphasis of course on the Harrovian. He said that some people might consider him to be servile, but that he saw himself as humble. He has made countless distinguished speeches. He may end up serving the Palace of Westminster in another capacity, but we know not yet.

I should also mention the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), a distinguished lawyer from the Liberal party who has been in the House for many more years than I have. In the past four years at least, we have not had to worry about splits in the Welsh Liberal party. He has given remarkable service during that period and previously.

Like many others, including the Secretary of State, the hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the bizarre procedure of the Dyfed Powys health authority, which announced the closure of eight community hospitals, without naming them. The Secretary of State administered what seemed to be a rebuke that may be acted upon—I do not know whether Mrs. Bourne, the chair of the health authority, will resign tomorrow.

That brings me to the third retiree, my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), my mother's and brother's Member of Parliament who has been Chairman of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs for a long time. Whichever party is elected, the next Government will have to give serious thought to the best way of employing my hon. Friend's remarkable talent in the public service. One could say that a Welsh triple crown of retirees have made their valedictory addresses tonight. I hope that they do not become a Bermuda triangle of people lost to the public service when they cease to be in the House.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery referred to the importance of the national health service in Wales, not only because of the problems of the Dyfed Powys health authority, but, as we should always remember in a St. David's day debate, because of the remarkable contribution that Welsh politicians have made to founding the modern welfare state.

Being a Liberal, the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned Lloyd George. As a Labour Member, I would add the two other distinguished names of Jim Griffiths and Aneurin Bevan. Between them, those three politicians erected the triple crown of the welfare state by introducing old-age pensions, universal national insurance and the national health service.

One might say that the Welsh contribution to modern British politics is the welfare state. It arises from Welsh history and the difficult and dangerous occupations in which Welsh people have traditionally been engaged—mining, quarrying, steel making, tinplate and so on—which made people concerned about what would happen if the roof fell in, for example. A miner might think, "I have money today, but what would happen tomorrow if I broke my back in a pit accident?" and others might worry about something happening in the dangerous and dirty occupations of most of our ancestors.

The speeches to which I have referred have given us a picture of Welsh debates over the past 10 years or more and that is enormously valuable to those of us who hope to be here after the next election on whichever side of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gower, a distinguished son of the famous village of Tumble, also mentioned the 14-year wait for a cardiac surgery unit in Morriston hospital. It was a famous pre-election promise by Lord Crickhowell just before the 1983 election. The unit will open later this year, some 14 years later.

Mr. Donald Anderson

It did not help him in Swansea.

Mr. Morgan

Perhaps not. That is the great paradox of Welsh politics. Whatever Conservative Secretaries of State think they are donating to an area, they certainly do not get any reward from the people of Wales.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gower asked what we should do about the withdrawal of NHS dentistry from large areas of Wales. Should we solve the problem by utilising salaried dentists employed by the health authorities or by expanding community dental services that are provided by the NHS? We have never had a clear answer on that.

My hon. Friends the Members for Gower and for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) mentioned the Sea Empress disaster. We are just past the anniversary of that—it was about 13 months ago. I imagine that I am speaking for hon. Members on both sides when I say that we expect a proper statement—I know that the matter falls primarily to the Secretary of State for Transport—and some debating time, if possible, on the report of the marine accidents, investigation branch of the Department of Transport. The people of Wales will insist on that as part of their rights of parliamentary accountability, although I fully appreciate that the Secretary of State for Wales cannot make that promise on behalf of his colleague at the Department of Transport.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), who is certainly not retiring, made two points. The first was about transforming the Welsh education system to concentrate on elite education. I would prefer to give greater priority to the problems of vocational education and the shortage of engineers that we shall have, to ensure that the new firms that move into Wales do not take all the engineers from the existing factories, thereby creating a crisis out of the success in getting new firms to move in.

I believe that the Secretary of State referred to the headline in yesterday's Western Mail about south-east Wales being the easiest place to get a job. That newspaper article was based on a report from the Gwent training and enterprise council into that problem, because it was being lobbied by 200 business men from Gwent who were worried that there were not enough engineers to staff the middle management, the technical side, the quality control side and the design side of the new firms, such as Newport Wafer-Fab and LG, which are moving in.

Those new jobs create a problem at the level of skilled labour, technician labour and graduate engineer labour. That is a problem that the Welsh economy must address now—not the creation of an elite for sport or the old professions, but the creation of an expanded vocational engineering service and the removal of the low prestige that vocational subjects still have relative to academic subjects.

Another issue addressed in many speeches is the Welsh fiscal deficit. The Secretary of State has published two booklets on the subject, referring to Wales having 5 per cent. of the United Kingdom population, but producing only 4 per cent. of the tax revenue. That is not because the Welsh are better tax dodgers than the English, I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in case you are concerned on behalf of your constituents. It is simply a reflection of the fact that, although it has 5 per cent. of the population, Wales has only 4 per cent. of the UK gross domestic product.

That fact has emerged from many other studies. Only last month a study was published on regional trends or economic trends—I forget which—showing that gross domestic product in Wales, which is one of those boring statistics that nobody understands, has fallen again relative to the United Kingdom average. In 1995, it was down from 84 per cent. to 83 per cent. That means that the average family income of Mr. and Mrs. Jones and the kids in the back streets or the valleys of Wales has fallen and can now be said to be 20 per cent. below the UK average. Someone whose income is 20 per cent. below the UK average will clearly pay 20 per cent. less tax than the UK average.

Those figures can be used in various ways. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli used them in the context of the Maastricht debate and the issue of the fiscal deficit. My point is—

Mr. Denzil Davies

For the record, my remarks were not made in the context of a Maastricht debate. I said that a country with a fiscal deficit of 15 per cent. could not exist as an independent country.

Mr. Morgan

I paraphrased my right hon. Friend wrongly. He is right. He specifically excluded Maastricht. He used the figures in his argument against the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones). How does the conclusion in the Secretary of State's booklet that Wales has only 4 per cent. of Great Britain's GDP and 5 per cent. of its population fit the picture painted in his speech? We must say, "Hang on a minute, Secretary of State. Where is this land of milk and honey with its vast numbers of jobs that you are claiming to be leading, indeed to have created?"

Mr. Richards

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Morgan

No, I will not give way. If it is true that the Secretary of State has created all those jobs—I have certainly heard such claims from him and his four or five predecessors in the 10 years that I have been in the House—and high standards of health and education, how can the statistics in his own booklets on the Welsh fiscal deficit and Welsh GDP indicate that average family income in Wales is 20 per cent. below the UK average? To take the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli, as of this moment, according to the statistics—

Mr. Richards

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Morgan

I have already told the hon. Gentleman that I will not give way.

If Wales were an independent country or, to make it sound less controversial, were counted as an independent country, and therefore in the OECD GDP league table, it would be 21st out of the 26 countries. We would be ahead of Spain, Portugal, Greece and Turkey—and that is it. I think that that is an accurate picture of where we are at the moment. What a remarkable contrast that is to the picture painted by the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State mentioned that, over the past 10 years, manufacturing employment was up in Wales. "What a remarkable thing that was," he said. When the Government came to power in 1979, 300,000 people were employed in manufacturing—but only 200,000 people are now. In fact, there has been a net loss of a third of manufacturing jobs over the 18 years that the Government have been in office.

The Secretary of State's speech was very much like a colonial governor's report back to the colonial office of 50 years ago, saying that the crops are growing well, exports are up, the natives are happy, there are a few noises about constitutional change but those can soon be sorted out by sending another boat-load of trinkets. That was really all he was saying. He was not looking at the bottom line, the acid test: how prosperous is the country that he is claiming is doing so well? That is the con trick.

The Secretary of State used the words "con trick", especially with regard to the health service. When he talks about increasing expenditure on the NHS next year, why does he always use the weasel-word, con-trick phrase of "compared with the plans for the present year"? Why does he not compare the figures with actual expenditure? He says that, when comparing expenditure this year—he means actual expenditure, which is what the Health Minister says whenever he makes a speech—with actual expenditure next year, it will increase by more than the rate of inflation. Yet the plans that he has announced for next year do not represent an increase of more than the rate of inflation.

The Bank of England says that inflation this year will be 2.9 per cent., yet the Government's plans, which have been announced, represent only 2.4 per cent above this year's health expenditure. If the Secretary of State is talking about con tricks, I am afraid that he must look at the use that he makes of the health statistics by leaving out the fact that he must go back to planned expenditure not actual expenditure for the present year.

I should like to refer briefly to the constitutional issue, which has come up time and again. Its broad thrust is whether being interested in constitutional change makes Wales turn inwards as a country, which I think was what the Secretary of State was saying, although how he would know I do not exactly know, or whether it helps Wales to emerge on the international and European stage more than it has in recent years, as we would claim. As we see it, the European summit is a huge opportunity to put Wales and its capital on the map. We are all absolutely delighted—I believe that we are all delighted—that it will be held for the first time in Cardiff in June next year. In the following year—1999—the rugby world cup final will be held in Wales.

By their very nature, the European summit and the rugby world cup are temporary, although they will be huge boosts to Wales and to perceptions of Wales abroad. Once the caravan has passed, things will go back to normal. If Wales wants not merely to be put on the map but to stay on the map, the creation of a Welsh Assembly is absolutely essential. An assembly will be the final part of a triple crown of achievements for which we should aim in 1997–99. I also hope that the timing will work out so that the first meeting of the Welsh Assembly will be held on the same day as the world cup final. I say that not because we want to ensure that a Welsh team is playing in something on that day, but because it will give a permanent boost to Wales.

The Secretary of State will have moved on by that time. He will have become the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer in the current Home Secretary's shadow Cabinet. He may even be enjoying himself there. Indeed, we have been told that he now has a private aeroplane, because he has been sponsored by some wealthy aeroplane-owning plutocrat. He might use that aeroplane to leave Wales—like the last American to leave Saigon—before the Welsh people take over and push him out. The Welsh people might say to him, "You've been here for a couple of years, and we're grateful that you've filled the job while we were waiting for a Labour Government. But now you've done your job. Get in that plane and go, because we need a Labour Government to put Wales back on its feet and, through a Welsh Assembly, to put it permanently on the map."

9.20 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Jonathan Evans)

In preparing for this debate, I thought that it might be helpful to cast my eye over some previous St. David's day debates. I entered the House at the previous general election, and, although I participated in St. David's day debates as a Back Bencher, this is the first time I have had the honour of replying to one. Looking through the speeches made in those debates, I was struck by those made last year, as they seem to show a consistent theme. It is interesting that the Labour party recently decided not to run with a series of advertisements based on the Mr. Men characters. If it had decided to do so, we would, of course, have seen on the Labour Benches Mr. Gloomy and Mr. Glum, who always appear at St. David's day debates.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), however, is the person who consistently does not appear. He was not in the Chamber for last year's St. David's day debate, and he is not here today.

Mr. Morgan

As the Secretary of State knew that the Labour party conference was in Llandudno, would not the right solution have been for him to lend his new private aeroplane to the shadow Secretary of State so that he could have gone to Llandudno after the debate?

Mr. Evans

I think that we have heard rather too much in this debate about rail and road services to Llandudno.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts) and my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) seem to know rather more about those services than the hon. Member for Caerphilly. However, I can cast some light on the matter. Today's newspaper states that the hon. Member for Caerphilly is in favour of a St. David's day holiday. He obviously decided—this year and last—to put that preference into practice by taking a St. David's day holiday himself. I see from the Opposition Benches that he has been joined by virtually half his parliamentary party in missing the debate.

It is interesting to examine some of the remarks made in last year's debate—not least those made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). He was very generous, and said: In the past 10 years, Wales has missed out on all the big new investment providing 2,000 jobs or more. He detailed those investments, and said that there were six big investments providing 2,000 and 3,000 jobs during the past eight or nine years He said that Wales had got none of them. He then went on to say We would have liked to have one of those firms and we might then have felt satisfied that Wales remained at the forefront of the Government's regional economic development effort."—[Official Report, 29 February 1996; Vol. 272, c. 1042.] Those were his words in last year's debate. Within weeks, however, we had an announcement of 6,000 jobs at Newport.

In last year's debate, the hon. Member for Cardiff, West made 10 references to a company called Chunghwa Picture Tubes. Those of us who have listened to him repeatedly in debates know that 10 references to a company are only a few for him. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I listened for the name of LG in the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I am afraid that it did not spill from his lips. The hon. Gentleman is gloomy on every occasion.

Mr. Morgan

When the Under-Secretary reads Hansard tomorrow, he will find that I referred, in the most complimentary terms, to the arrival of LG, but I also referred to the fears expressed by 200 businesses in Gwent that, unless the Government got off their backside and did something about the supply of engineers, problems could be caused. Does he recall that, and will he now withdraw his stupid remarks?

Mr. Evans

I remember the hon. Gentleman making that point. I was listening keenly for the name of LG, because I had these references to earlier debates. I did not hear it. If the Hansard writers have managed to record one utterance of LG, I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I did not hear 10 references to LG like the 10 that he made when he attacked the Secretary of State 12 months ago. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) cannot just stand up and wave his notes.

Mr. Evans

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Morgan

Will the Under-Secretary give way?

Mr. Evans

No, I want to make some progress and to respond to some of the points made in the debate.

One of the other consistent themes of Welsh debates has been the contribution by my right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy. On every occasion on which he has contributed, he has graced the proceedings. I am grateful for the remarks which have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House praising his contribution. Their remarks were generous, and rightly so.

Everyone recalls the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy to the passing of the Welsh Language Act 1993 and his work to promote the Welsh language. The fact that Welsh is now taught in all our schools in the Principality is down to his efforts. We can also thank him for the establishment of the fourth television channel. People in Wales, whatever their political opinions, recognise that those changes are down to his efforts.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy should also take credit for the remarkable improvement in standards of education in Wales in the time he was Welsh Education Minister. I had a letter last week from someone in my constituency setting out the view that everything was wonderful in education in 1979, and then the Tories were elected and problems started. I have been involved in politics for longer than that, and I have a report produced and published in 1980 by the current director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, who is not regarded as a supporter of the Conservative party. The report spoke of the widening gap in the performance of Welsh schoolchildren compared to English schoolchildren during the Labour Government. At the beginning of that Government's time in office, around a third of young people in Wales left school without any qualifications.

That point ties in with the refreshing and honest speech by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). He made an interesting contribution which I hope many people will read. He said that the problems went back more than 30 years and he was not seeking to make any party political point. The evidence is that there has been a remarkable improvement, although I recognise that there is more to be done. The gap has not totally closed yet, but it has narrowed remarkably in the past 18 years, largely because of the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Conwy. I reiterate the point that, in the five years to 1979, the gap in performance widened, and that is a judgment on some of the claims about the likely performance of a Labour authority.

I did not follow entirely one of the arguments of the right hon. Member for Llanelli. I accept his points about the need to ensure that we do our utmost to develop as much talent as we can in the young people of Wales and to present them with as many opportunities as we can. He made a point about supporting the elite in the education system, and I seem to remember him saying that it was also important to try to get standards in some schools in Wales up to those of the best public schools in England—I think that those were his words. He will recall that our assisted places scheme provides places in schools in Wales that operate at that level. I found it difficult to reconcile his opposition to the assisted places scheme with some of his remarks.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) also made a valedictory speech, which gives me the opportunity to say to him that, although we have disagreed about a wide range of things, as constituency neighbours over the past five years we have also managed to find things on which, from time to time, we can agree, and advance the interests of the people of Wales. During the hon. and learned Gentleman's time in the House, he has demonstrated his willingness to work in that way; I certainly know that he has done so during the years in which I have been here.

The hon. and learned Gentleman's contributions have always been interesting. I note what he said about Dyfed Powys health authority, but he does not require a further reply from me, because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already dealt specifically with his questions.

Both the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and the hon. Member for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell) gave what was, in my view, too negative an opinion of the health service. I remind them that, for about 37 of the 50 years of the existence of our national health service, a Conservative Government have been in office, building up that health service.

The Opposition sometimes want to portray an image of the Government as one in some sense committed to undermining the health service, but this is a health service that we have grown during the years in which we have been in government. The good things about our health service are things that we have developed, and we need to assert that much more strongly in the weeks, months and years ahead.

The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) also made a valedictory contribution, and I agree with everything that has been said about his chairmanship of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. He told the House that he had received a good deal of training, both from his predecessors and from others in the House, not least Leo Abse. The hon. Gentleman will know of my own personal connection with Leo Abse. Certainly there is a great deal to be learnt from somebody of such wide experience. I owe a personal debt to the hon. Member for Gower, because I have learnt much from him.

I am also grateful for the hon. Gentleman's observation, which in a way underpinned the debate, that he regarded all the people who had served with him on the Welsh Affairs Committee as friends in the House. Just about everybody who has contributed to the debate falls into that category, and the feeling is mutual—although I also share the view expressed in a telling intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West. It may be received rather better by the Opposition than by some of my hon. Friend's other interventions.

My hon. Friend tellingly pointed out that the hon. Member for Gower was saying how effective his work on the Welsh Affairs Committee had been, which showed how accountable our system of government is, here in the House. It is a shame that more attention is not given to the work undertaken by the Committee that the hon. Gentleman chaired, because it gives the lie to claims that Parliament is unaccountable.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) talked about a Welsh Assembly, and also spoke in glowing terms about my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). In my intervention, I tried to set the historical record clear.

The strictures of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) about political appointments being made to all the public bodies in Wales sat rather ill with the fact that he then proceeded to propose the hon. Member for Gower as the next chairman of the health authority. My knowledge of the old Labour party tells me that, irrespective of Lord Nolan, it seems to be a case of "back to the old days".

Mr. Donald Anderson


Mr. Evans

I am seeking to draw my remarks to a close.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East also said that he was concerned about the demand-led element in further education funding, and asked me to write to him. I shall be happy to do so, although I can tell him that I am aware of the position, and I am examining the options. I shall write to him in fuller terms in due course.

The hon. Gentleman went on to allege that we were a Unionist party, as though that was something of which we should be ashamed. From the time I made my maiden speech in the House, I have made it clear that I have no shame about the fact that I am a Unionist. The time was when the Labour party was a Unionist party, but we have come to question that now.

Mr. Anderson

The point I was making was that, as the Conservative party has lost support in both Wales and Scotland, it has retreated into being an English nationalist party.

Mr. Evans

It cannot be claimed that pointing out the disadvantages inherent in Labour's proposals for the creation of a separate Welsh Assembly means that we are an English nationalist party. That does not necessarily follow at all. The line that we are putting to the people of Wales and to the rest of the country is the same line as we were putting in 1979. I am bound to say that I remember those debates, and the way in which we were characterised at that time as isolated from Welsh opinion.

I remember that those campaigning for a yes vote produced a leaflet saying that, in fact, the only people opposed to an assembly were members of the Conservative party and members of the Country Landowners Association. They also produced cartoons at that time which portrayed a similar message. I recognise that we were helped, in that we had one or two Labour Members who were prepared to join us during the debate. I am bound to say that, in his heart of hearts, the hon. Member for Swansea, East knows that that opinion still lurks in the Labour party.

Mr. Morgan

What about the former Prime Minister?

Mr. Evans

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup has been consistent in his view on this matter for more than 30 years. I well remember another leaflet produced by those campaigning for a yes vote which contained a photograph of my right hon. Friend and urged the people of Wales to vote yes because Mr. Heath was recommending it. I am bound to say that that has not been put forward by the Labour party as an explanation for the eventual result. Against a background in which those proposing the establishment of an assembly claimed the support of all within the trade unions, those within the Churches and the intelligentsia in Wales, the result was that the people of Wales voted by a margin of four to one against.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen was typically honest in responding to my question to him. The public mood in Wales in the late 1970s was very much more in favour of the establishment of an assembly than it was towards the conclusion of the debate on the referendum itself. There are a number of reasons, one of which was that the public in Wales had the opportunity of watching the way in which the debate went in Parliament. They saw that Members of Parliament from all parts of the UK had individual proposals for changes to the propositions, and we were able to engage in a debate and decide whether amendments should be made to legislation. That has always been the procedure of the House.

Those debates substantially informed the referendum debate and the final decision of the people of Wales. The Labour party proposes to have what it calls a pre-legislative vote, in which the people of Wales will be invited to vote on a paper produced by the Labour party without there being an opportunity to amend it. Presumably, Labour will then railroad those Members of Parliament who are here into the view that they should support that proposal, come what may. That is an outrageous proposal, and Plaid Cymru must think so also. That is why it is arguing that there should be not pre-legislative choice, but a multi-option choice. In that regard, I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) about a multi-option choice.

The answer is to ensure that we have a proper debate in the House before any such proposal is made. In the circumstances, it is clear that the Labour party is not prepared to go down that road, because it is fairly sure that the outcome of a referendum would be the same the next time.

Mr. Gyles Brandreth (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Forward to