Previous Section Home Page

Column 332

"A new slab of Government in the form of an Assembly would turn into yet another costly millstone around the necks of the people of Wales",

and :

"In practice it"--

an Assembly--

"would simply mean a divisive and destructive scramble over limited resources with no gain in money or democracy to the people of Wales",

and :

"For the price of an Assembly we could have a new hospital or six miles of motorway or 10 comprehensive schools every year". He had the nerve, the gall or--that wonderful Hebrew word--the chutzpah, to say a couple of weeks ago :

"I've always supported devolution--a devolution that is right for Wales".

"Something old ; nothing new"--that is the Labour party refrain. As Neil Ascherson, the Observer columnist, put it :

"Devolution is a withered word".

The phrase "something old, something new" applies equally to the speech of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones)-- [Interruption.] I am being asked to wind up just as I was coming to my best bit, but never mind, I shall use my speech again like the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside. He made a speech which has again shown him to be the original "Green". All he does is recycle his old speeches ; we had another old one today. He forgets, as his colleagues forget, that Pontypridd, where Labour had a reduced share of the vote and where its majority was almost halved, will not win Labour the 98 seats it needs to achieve victory at the next election.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. It was remiss of me not to do so before, but I take the opportunity to remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock.

7.19 pm

Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North) : Braint ac anrhydedd yw caelsiarad am Gymru a'r Ddydd Gwyl Dewi. To some of us St. David's day is very important but perhaps it is not so to the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan), who does not understand the aspirations of the Welsh people and the nation. Turning the clock back a few years to St. David's day 1974, four of us in the House today will never forget that day as it was early in the morning of that day that we were elected for the first time--the hon. Members for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist), for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), and myself. Whatever views people may hold about us, we are still here and we hope to remain for a long time. When we entered the House a week after St. David's day we were fortunate to be met by the two hon. Members who have already been mentioned--Sir Raymond Gower and Brynmor John--who advised us in a nice way on how we should proceed in the House, and thank God that we had the pleasure to meet them and to know and work with them. Today we have listened to the new hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). It is an historic occasion for him--I can recollect no other Welshman making his maiden speech on St. David's day. That is a wonderful achievement. The hon. Gentleman's delivery was excellent. He made a humorous speech and I predict that in a few years he will be one of the greatest orators in the House.

Column 333

He has an excellent baritone voice and I wish him well. He is also a staunch devolutionist. Better still, he is one of the Howells clan--a rare commodity in Wales today.

Turning to the Secretary of State for Wales while I am in a complimentary mood, I congratulate him on the way in which he has looked after the interests of the Welsh language. As a Welshman and Welsh speaker, I congratulate him on his great endeavours and concerted efforts to save the language before it is too late. I am only sorry that other Conservative Members do not share his will to support Wales, its language and its culture.

On the 10th anniversay of the referendum on devolution, it is appropriate to look back over the intervening years to see what has happened in Wales under this most centralist of Governments, after the rejection of the measures on offer at that time. I am not afraid to talk about devolution, I am willing to argue with the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) whenever he wants to discuss the aspirations of Welsh people and the devolution of power to them, which he does not understand.

Although the Secretary of State claims great advances in manufacturing output, well above the United Kingdom average, he fails to point out how much ground there was to make up after the dismantling of the traditional industries during the lifetime of this Government. Wales, more than anywhere else, has suffered from the concentration of power and resources in the south-east of England, and continues to do so. The Welsh Office may paint a fine picture of factories, valley initiatives and inward investment, but that is more a tribute to its public relations efforts than a reflection of the true state of the nation.

We still have a crumbling infrastructure in Wales. Where are the plans to build the north-south road link? We still have the worst housing stock in the United Kingdom. Unemployment in some areas is disgracefully high. For example, despite the Government's massaging of the figures, it is still very high in my constituency. Standards of education in many parts of Wales are far lower than they should be. School buildings are in poor repair ; parents and pupils have to run bazaars and jumble sales to provide the funds for fairly basic requirements in the schools. Our university colleges are struggling for survival in an unfriendly and philistine environment. Agriculture in Wales, which has not yet been mentioned, has suffered some of the worst years in living memory but the Government have steadfastly refused to provide any special help for the worst afflicted areas. After 10 years of Tory rule, Wales has gained little and lost a great deal.

I am sure that if a Welsh Parliament had been established in 1979 we should not now be facing the iniquitous poll tax, which will hit people in Wales who are at the lower end of the income scale. We should not now face the cost of water privatisation or fear the privatisation of British Rail, which could cut our rail services to the bare minimum. We would give short shrift to the Government's latest proposals for the so-called reform of the National Health Service, because the people of Wales know that those proposals will bring little benefit to the sick and the elderly. We would protect our institutes of higher education and defend our research institutions. By now, a north-south road would have been part of the plans for an improved road and rail network, and plans for improved

Column 334

housing would be well advanced. Education would be given far higher priority, and local government would be streamlined to respond to the needs of the community.

The truth is that Wales has already comprehensively rejected Thatcherism, as shown by the falling number of Tory seats and the evidence in recent polls of a growing desire for a Parliament for Wales. There is something profoundly undemocratic about the way in which we are governed by the bureaucracy of a Welsh Office and ruled from London by various quangos full of Tory appointees. The Welsh people are waking up to the fact that if they are to have what they want--what is good for Wales and her people-- government must be brought closer to the people through a fairly elected Welsh Parliament which can deal directly with the problems and aspirations of our country. I said in 1979 that a Tory Government with centralist ideas would delay the establishment of a Welsh Parliament for at least 10 years. I now feel that there is a real awakening of enthusiasm for the principles of devolution, not just among politicians but in the population at large. It is time to reopen the debate in the context of the present economic, social and cultural state of Wales--we should not wait for another 10 years. Most hon. Members representing Welsh seats are now in favour of devolving power to the people of Wales. One thing is certain--whichever party now in opposition takes over from the Conservative Government, all are pledged to support a Welsh Parliament. We look forward to that day, and I hope that it will come soon.

You said, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we could speak for 10 minutes. You may not be aware that I was to have spoken fourth today but I made way for the hon. Member for Pontypridd to make his maiden speech, so I wonder whether you can give me any extra time.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Once the Standing Order has been applied, it is not in my authority to give any extra time.

Mr. Howells : I accept your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker--perhaps things will be better in a Welsh Parliament.

7.29 pm

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, north (Mr. Howells) seems to think that a panacea for the problems of Wales is a Welsh Parliament. It is clear from proposals that have been put forward in the past for a Welsh Parliament that, far from being a panacea, it would be a recipe for disunity and argument between the Westminster Parliament and an assembly in Cardiff. The Westminster Parliament would have to decide how much taxes could be raised for spending in Wales. In any event, we could not have the break-up of the United Kingdom that the hon. Gentleman wishes to see.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, as I did last year, on some constituency matters, but I wish at the outset to pay tribute, as hon. Members in all parts of the House have done, to the late Sir Raymond Gower. I was able to pay tribute to Brynmor John in the debate on 1 February on the Pontypridd by-election. I remember Sir Raymond sitting a few feet from me, chuckling with delight as the debate progressed. That was typical of the man.

Column 335

Those of us who, as new Members, got to know him well in the Tea Room in recent years became aware of his friendly, avuncular personality and the way in which he would give warm advice, would teach us some of the ways of the House and would tell us how to perform our work as constituency Members. I greatly regret his passing. I am sure that whoever follows him as the Member for Vale of Glamorgan will have a difficult role to play in emulating the hard work that Sir Raymond did over 38 years.

My route to my constituency takes me down the M4 through south Wales to the far corner of west Wales. Driving down that motorway, I see the remarkable transformation that has taken place in the Principality in the last few years. It is incredible to see the new housing and factories going up and to witness the prosperity that has come to Wales under this Government.

That has been seen in the figures for unemployment across Wales. My constituency has the highest single unemployment rate in Wales. Whereas in 1987 we had 7,381 people out of work, that had fallen last year to 6,232 and at January this year the figure was 4,899. It is still far too high, but it is a fall in two years of 33.6 per cent. I welcome the improvement in the economic circumstances of my constituency. Initiatives have been put forward in recent months for Tenby, Pembroke, Narberth and, above all, for Milford Haven. But there are still worrying signs in my constituency.

The reply I received to a written question on Monday of this week showed that imports through Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock had fallen to 7,151 tonnes in 1987. I am glad to note that the figures for Fishguard show an improvement, but there are still problems in my part of the world, caused partly by the geography of being so far from the major centres of population and markets.

However, on the good side there are wonderful signs of revival. In Pembroke Dock there are clear signs that it is becoming a boom town, and I pay especial tribute to Govan Davies, one of our leading entrepreneurs in that town. He has raised nearly £7 million, mainly through private means, towards funding his deep-water dock facilities which are being constructed in the town. When completed, that will provide 500 jobs. It will also provide, on the warehouse site, 300, 000 sq ft of new warehouse accommodation. He was the subject of an article in the February edition of Management Today , which said : "Moreover, Pembroke Dock has certain undeniable advantages over many other ports. It has no lock gates which open only when the tide is high, as at Bristol, for example. Davies' quays will be accessible, except to big Panamax vessels, at all states of the tide. They will work seven days a week, round the clock It should thus be possible to turn round shipping, which earns money by being at sea and only incurs costs when in harbour, as quickly as anywhere in Britain. Milford Haven Port Authority charges are among the lowest in Europe. Davies also suggests that shipowners should be able to negotiate cheaper insurance rates by avoiding the English Channel." There are also clear signs that, with the revival of the B and I ferry service to Ireland from Pembroke Dock and with the growth of the Ledwoods company and the Jenkins and Davies company in the town, the manufacturing base of Pembroke Dock is on the up.

But in the 10 minutes available to me I wish to concentrate on the local economy and the future of Milford Haven. There, unemployment is still running at 24 per cent., far higher than the Welsh average. In discussions about the future of the royal naval armaments depot in Milford Haven, the Secretary of State promised to contact

Column 336

the chairman of the Welsh development agency to see whether action could be taken on Milford Haven. I was delighted that, as a result of the pressure which I, local trade unions and local residents put on the Secretary of State, he announced at the end of last year the establishment of the Milford Haven business initiative by the WDA. I look forward to seeing the report which the chairman has promised will be with us shortly.

In my speech last year I referred to the subjects of small business units, the improvement of the infrastructure, the improvement in inward investment and the need for Government offices and agencies to be brought to west Wales. Today I shall refer to only two of those, the first being the infrastructure.

We must ensure that the A477 and A40 are brought up to dual carriageway standard throughout their total length, for that is the way to ensure that the goods and services that we need in west Wales and the goods and services that we can provide--the imports and exports--can go swiftly to the large markets and centres of population.

But we must also push British Rail into improving its services to west Wales. Hon. Members who use BR will be aware that it takes only two and a half hours to get to Swansea by InterCity 125. But it takes nearly another two hours to get from Swansea to Haverfordwest, which is only another 60 miles away. We do it in dirty, two-car diesel multiple units which are hot in summer and cool in winter. One cannot see out of the windows for the dirt and, because there are only two cars, inevitably large numbers of passengers must stand. My constituents in west Wales are entitled to a decent railway service, and that would be the way to attract more passengers and customers. Those who took part in the Welsh Affairs Select Committee visit to the far east last year were impressed with the determination of companies, especially in Japan, to invest in Wales. They saw Wales as a country of growth and potential with good labour relations and a good tax regime. I want to see my right hon. Friend encouraging those Japanese and other companies to expand westwards into the west and mid- Wales. It is all very well having a great deal of new investment around Cardiff, Newport and Wrexham, but those of us in west Wales--I see the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) nodding in assent--want those companies to be brought to our areas.

The green field site of the former Esso refinery would make a superb opportunity for use by Nissan, Mitsubishi or one of the other companies which is expressing interest in Wales. By providing valuable work to the local economy, it would have the effect, through the multiplier, of increasing the amount of cash in the shops and thus helping to build up the local economy.

I welcome the Secretary of State's comments about increasing trade with Spain and Portugal. It is vital that we make a headlong rush towards increasing trade with those countries because that is an under-developed market where there should be ample opportunities to export our goods.

I have time to refer to only one other matter, and that must be the farming community in my constituency. They are concerned about the review which is now taking place of the Potato Marketing Board. I have told my constituents that I want to see the outcome of the review before reaching a conclusion. The Government must have

Column 337

extremely strong arguments before I shall be convinced that we should get rid of the Potato Marketing Board. It has been a good stabiliser for the local farming economy.

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate, and I welcome the fact that the economy of Wales is improving greatly. 7.39 pm

Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath) : You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I have served longer in this House than anyone else, and during those years we have heard tributes paid to colleagues who have served here and passed on. Today, hon. Members in all parts of the House have paid tribute to Brynmor John and Raymond Gower. Each tribute has been fulsome and has emphasised the warmth, dedication and commitment of those men. I join my colleagues in those tributes and I believe that we should be failing in our duty if we did not mention Mrs. Ann John and Lady Gower, whose support for their husbands made it possible for our former colleagues to give the quality of service that they did to the House and to the people whom they represented.

Today we have also witnessed the commencement of a new parliamentary career. We welcome to our assembly my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). He speaks eloquently and with ability and I am sure that his contributions will enhance our proceedings in the Mother of Parliaments.

I extend an invitation to right hon. and hon. Members to visit Neath to see the excellent development taking place there, especially the pedestrianisation of the town centre, which makes it among the best in Britain. Before the Secretary of State dashes out with a press statement claiming it as another of his great initiatives, I place it on record that the development in Neath owes nothing to the whizz kid from Worcester but is a result of the confidence of the people of Castell Nedd. The development was designed by a former borough engineer, Mr. Alan Jenkins, and authorised by the borough council in co-operation with West Glamorgan county council. When I was a youngster in my home town of Barry large numbers of day trippers used to come to the town--many of them, no doubt, from Neath. When I visited my home town recently it occurred to me that it might be very useful for some of the citizens of Barry to take a day trip to Neath and see what is being achieved under a Labour council and perhaps compare it with what is happening in Barry under a Tory council.

It has been said that life in south Wales centred around two great industries--coal and steel. That is perfectly true. Those industries did not just create employment--they moulded the character and quality of the people and their communities. From those and related industries came our religious leaders, our community leaders and our industrial leaders-- leaders of the Welsh people, some of whom, such as Nye Bevan and Jim Griffiths, went on to become leaders of the British people. Today those industries have declined from their former strength, but they are still important to the communities in which they exist and to the economy of Britain. Unfortunately, the present Government, unlike many people in south Wales,

Column 338

do not see those industries as related to the lives of the people of south Wales but only as a means of private profit and expendable if that profit is not achieved.

Last week Blaenant colliery, which is in the Dulais valley in my constituency and the only deep mine left in west Glamorgan, was on stop and £1 million was lost, and what was it all about? It was about the pig- headedness of British Coal management at area level. Twelve months ago Blaenant faced possible closure. Now, as a result of co-operation between men and local management a new face has been opened up which will provide good quality coal for another four years. The seams are rather thin--2 to 3 ft high--and, unfortunately, very wet, especially at times of heavy rainfall, so the men working there get soaked to the skin. In addition to the wet conditions, air passes through the pit at high velocity and makes it bitterly cold. During the past 30 years it has been custom and practice among men working in such conditions to get on with the job, finish it and get out of the pit, which often meant working through food breaks so that the work could be completed. That flexible approach by the men and the local management has been the means of turning around the future of the pit. The pit was closed last week because an edict came down, without consultation, that the men were not to leave the pit but were to remain there until the end of the shift, in conditions which were likely to injure their health. The Secretary of State understands these things much better than any of his Tory predecessors as Secretary of State for Wales, as he was responsible for the coal mining industry when he was an Energy Minister. I ask him to intervene and to stop the nonsense which closed Blaenant last week and thus remove the men's suspicion that there are other motives behind British Coal's action.

I remind the House that Blaenant is in the news again this week because of the accident on Monday evening when two men, Calvin Jones and Clive Havard, lost their lives in the pit. The sympathy of right hon. and hon. Members goes to those so tragically bereaved by that accident, which is a reminder to everyone that mining is not like working in a shop, an office or an electronics factory--it is dirty and dangerous, and those who work in it and their community are very special. Those two men grew up together, played together, went to school together, worked together and ultimately died together. Finally, I want to say a few words about the steel industry, in which I have to declare an interest. I notice that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are signalling to me to sit down. That is a pity because I am concerned about the tin plate industry and its effects on the steel industry in Wales. There is a fear that unless we are able to maintain steel and tin plate in south Wales, we shall lose our steel industry in Wales and perhaps the ideas of Eden and Ridley in the days of the Heath Government will come to pass.

Perhaps the Secretary of State for Wales is not happy that we are not so enthusiastic about his endeavours for Wales, but we want success in Wales. That is why we set up the Welsh Development Agency when Conservative Members voted against it. We want it to succeed because its success will mean a better life for the people of Wales.

Column 339

7.48 pm

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) : The Secretary of State for Wales has an avowed mission to convert the valleys to Conservatism. He is not making very much progress and we are not seeing his light at present. Equally, it is the right of the native to convert the missionary, and that is our aim and purpose. One reason why he is not making progress is that fundamentally the valley communities do not share the attitude, the approach and the values that are the driving force of specific Government policies. I notice that an almost simplistic model of policy is now being applied to practically everything, whether it is steel, gas, coal, health or housing. It is the simplistic idea of the competition model--that if one manages to create conflict, if one manages to divide, if one manages to break things up in the name of competition and motivate people with money and incentives, everything will be infinitely better.

The valley communities do not work on that basis. The people in the valleys do not share those values or possess that kind of mentality. They believe much more in co-operation than in conflict. They believe much more in collectivist action than in highly individualistic or competitive attitudes. It does not mean that we do not want to get on, but when it comes to the community and, in particular, areas of service in the community we do not believe in this simplistic competition model being applied to every aspect of our life and our services. The Secretary of State will find, as the Government seek to apply this model to areas that touch the very heart of our services and the very nature of our community, that the reaction and the revulsion will increase.

I will illustrate the point by reference to the White Paper on health services, for it is almost archetypal of this competition model approach to what is a vital and central service in our community. I do not know whether hon. Members read the day after the White Paper came out the remarks of Dr. Hugh Saxton, a distinguished consultant and chairman of the management board of Guy's hospital. It would transform attitudes to patients, he said, referring to the White Paper :

"We will have to look outwards for our customers instead of just watching them come through the door. Every patient becomes in some sense a private patient, a valued customer who is bringing the money for treatment with them."

I find that attitude absolutely nauseating. Are the thousands of patients who are currently passing through the doors of Guy's hospital not valid? Are they just watched through by the Dr. Hugh Saxtons and the rest of them because there is no money motivation in it? Are the concept of the Hippocratic oath and the idea of service no longer enshrined in the attitudes of consultants who run our hospital services?

It is that instinct, that mentality, which runs right through the White Paper on the Health Service to which we fundamentally object and which we reject--the idea of trying to create, in the one and only Health Service that most of our communities have, some sort of conflict, some sort of competition, when the fact is that we want to make the one Health Service that we have work much better, we want not to break it up but to build it up and improve it. We have only one district hospital and one Health Service in our community. We do not expect any others to turn up. We want to make the service better and even more responsive to the needs of the community that it is meant to serve.

Column 340

I listened with some interest to the important statement of the Secretary of State about the role of the so- called self-managed hospitals and his commitment to the notion that all the services provided by them will be committed to the community in which they are built. This is not what the working papers issued by the Department of Health show. I hope that when the Minister replies he will clarify the position. One working paper makes a clear distinction. It says that these self-managed hospitals will be responsible only for what it calls "core services". It says :

" Other Services' are those where there may be expected to be an element of competition in supply".

Let me tell the House what those services are--not the committed core services but the treatment of cataracts, hernias and hip replacements, all vital services that we expect from our own district general hospitals. According to these working papers, these services are not necessarily to be the function of one district hospital or another ; they will be open to some sort of competition in supply. What a nauseating concept it is that elderly patients in my constituency, who are hobbling with terribly arthritic hips or suffering from the painful condition of hernia, will have to hunt around perhaps as much as 50 or 100 miles away from the hospital up the road from where they live, the hospital that is within walking or bussing distance. They will have to look for whoever is competing in supplying treatment for hernias or hip replacements.

In my community, because of the climate, we have a high incidence of ear, nose and throat conditions in our young people. The notion is that families have to peddle their children and hunt round to Ysbyty Gwynedd, to the West Wales hospital to get an ENT condition seen to. That is the idea written into these working papers, and we reject it utterly.

Where is this competition in supply? I have the figures for all our district hospitals and their waiting lists for treatment of conditions like hernias and cataracts and ENT conditions. At Prince Charles the waiting time is over 209 days for hernias--that is when one gets on to the waiting list. Would we look for treatment at East Glamorgan? No, it has an equally large waiting list. Perhaps we can send our people all the way up to Ysbyty Gwynedd--there is only a 65-day waiting list there. Is that the idea--that the patient hunts for a service he should be albe to expect from the hospital that the community has built and in many cases has financed and supported voluntarily?

That is one of the reasons why the Secretary of State will fail hopelessly in his mission to convert the valley communities to this narrow-minded, mean and petty attitude towards life and society and community.

As I said, the natives have a right to try to convert the missionary, and I would like to convert the Secretary of State and his Ministers into taking another approach to our Health Service. There is much common ground. I have welcomed and supported, as the Minister knows, the efforts of the hospital waiting lists initiatives that the Welsh Office has promoted. There is a necessity, as the White Paper says, although it is rather weasel-worded in this respect, to define closely the role and contracts of major consultants in all our hospitals to ensure that we get the maximum service from that formerly great profession.

We must deal with and settle once and for all the unfortunate notion that the recruitment of private patient work in our community has something to do with the lengthy waiting lists in our hospitals, thus giving rise to

Column 341

potential conflicts of interest. We could give stronger powers to patients. We should not be hidebound by earlier, old-fashioned views about how the hospital system was accountable to the community. We could look at various ideas.

I should like to borrow one idea, promoted possibly by the Secretary of State when he was in the Department of Energy. I have been rather impressed by the function and work of James McKinnon on behalf of the customers of the gas industry. Let us look at the idea of a health regulatory body which would stand up for patients and demand that hospitals delivered the services and achieved their objectives. There are whole areas where we could reach out to some common ground, but we will not reach out to common ground on the basis of the present proposals.

I am no medical expert, but I understand that if one tries to transplant an alien organ into a body it is highly likely to be rejected. There is a very high likelihood that if the Government continue to attempt to graft American-style attitudes and money-motivated methods on to the British National Health Service they will be rejected and, in the process, the Secretary of State himself will be rejected.

7.58 pm

Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South) : I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) not only because, like him, I was a research officer in Wales, not only because he managed to win a by- election in Wales, which I did not, but also because over the years I have followed his progress, and he has exuded such frankness and honesty that this place will be the better for his presence.

There is a long-standing myth that the Welsh language was effectively extirpated by the Act of Union in 1536. However, 300 years later 90 per cent. of the Welsh population still spoke Welsh. The trouble is that the victims of that myth have assumed that the salvation of the Welsh language depends upon the reimposition of the official status of Welsh, perhaps through a new Welsh language Act or otherwise.

All the new bilingual forms and the rights of Welsh people to speak Welsh in court and to deal with local and central Government in Welsh have probably not created one more Welsh speaker--welcome as those developments have been. The salvation of the Welsh language lies in education. For that to make progress it must exploit the substantial reservoirs of good will that exist in the monoglot English-speaking majority. To a great extent, that opportunity is impeded by those who do wilful damage and deliberately disobey the law in a cause which they believe will advance the Welsh language. That causes damage because it enshrouds the Welsh language in negativity. To win hearts and minds, people must draw others towards them and not repel them. In 1755 the Cymmrodorion knew that when they said that their aim was to

"reveal to the world the value of this old language in such beautiful colours as it will be reckoned an honour henceforth to speak it."

That is an important message and it is one that Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin has learned. It has exuded that attractiveness. It was started in the early 1970s and it has

Column 342

now grown to an organisation that schools 10,000 children a year. It has 530 groups and 320 mother and child groups. Its target is to have 600 groups in the near future, each fed by a mother and child group.

That expansion has had to be fuelled by hard cash. Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin is a voluntary body, proud of its independence and, to a large extent, it has raised its money through its own sweated labours in fund raising that often involves parents. The plural funding on which it depends has given it an independence and a zip that no local education authority could hope to emulate. Welsh Office funding has grown generously by about 827 per cent. since 1978, to £383,700 in 1987-88. It also receives local authority social service grants of £120,000 a year from the Welsh Office to support its field operation and headquarters. Sadly, I do not think that those LASS grants have grown in line with inflation. It also receives some funding from local authorities, although some are not as generous as Gwynedd, Clwyd and Dyfed.

Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin desperately needs more money to pay for desperately unfulfilled needs. It needs more development offices, the people who go around monitoring progress and pump-priming new groups. It needs a great increase in the number of group leaders, especially in the south-east and north-east of Wales. I understand that it has made a submission to the new Welsh language body asking for resources so that young mothers can be trained in pre-school education and so that they too can take on the duty of educating these young groups. The insufficiency of group leaders can be attributed to the rapid growth of Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin, which has meant that it is outstripping the resources available to it. That is a signal to the Welsh Office that more resources will be needed for Welsh medium teachers. Young children have the facility to absorb language in the way that rain is absorbed. Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin turns them out at the age of four and a half potentially bilingual. Because of that the organisation is engendering a demand for Welsh medium education at primary and secondary school levels.

The Government believe, or at least they say that they believe, in parental choice, in diversity to make that choice real and in higher standards. In Wales we have ready-made excellent standards in Welsh medium schools, and that fact derives from the highly motivated teaching staffs within them. We have ready-made cultural diversity and a ready-made real alternative.

The demand for Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin often comes from English-speaking monoglot parents, especially in the south-east and north-east of Wales. That should be presented as a blockbuster argument to the Welsh Office, because if we believe in parental choice we should accommodate that choice. If the believers in the Welsh language and in its future are prepared to manipulate the Government's aims to their objectives, we could achieve the jewel in the crown--the right of children in Wales to be educated through the medium of Welsh.

8.5 pm

Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) : It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) who is a dysgwr--a Welsh learner--himself, and I am sure that his support for Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin will be noted by that movement and by the Government.

Column 343

It is also a pleasure for me to welcome and congratulate my hon. Friend the new Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) on his maiden speech. Those of us who have known him for many years know that he has rhetorical skills and I am sure that he will apply them in the House as he has done elsewhere for many years. He secured a good vote in the Pontypridd by-election but I can claim to speak for 25 per cent. of the Pontypridd electorate. Our candidate in that by-election, Syd Morgan, fought a positive campaign that elicited a strong response from the electorate in that valley community which no doubt resonated in other valleys.

The untimely death of Sir Raymond Gower occurred after a hard day's campaigning. I know that that was the way he would have wanted to go. That may be a cliche , but I know that Raymond would have appreciated it. It is right to put on record our appreciation of the tradition of Welsh Toryism from which he sprang and for which he was such a valuable representative for many years.

In paying tribute we also look back to the history of the last 15 years in Welsh politics as my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) has done. I have only 10 minutes and I shall spend one minute on history and the remaining time in dealing with the future. The history of events since 1979 have been recounted in the debate and by my friend Jon Dressel in the Western Mail this morning. We had the disappointment of the failure of the devolution referendum, but it is important to put those events behind us because Welsh politics have moved on since 1979.

In that sense, I attempted to give a short, salutary lesson to the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) who tried to suggest that the party of Wales believed in devolution. I have made it clear on a number of occasions that we do not believe that the question of a devolved assembly and the relationship between Wales and this House is the most important question about the government of Wales. The most important question is about the powers to be established in an effective Welsh Government in Cardiff and the relationship that such a Government would have with the European Community.

Whether we like it or not we are living in the age of federalism. The days of a centralised nation state and of the bandying about of notions of national sovereignty, whether of the United Kingdom or of the putative sovereignty of a Welsh state, are over. We are living in an interdependent world and have to try to find what levels of government make sense for which functions. That is why we in the party of Wales have always argued that we should have an elected Welsh Government with competence over the whole of the economic and social life of the nation and the ability to relate the Welsh economy and society to the other constituent parts of western Europe. Indeed, we need look no further than the success of our sister party in Flanders, which not only has a vice-premiership in the Belgian state Government but has been able to negotiate a new federal structure for Belgium which assures, among other things, that resources are adequately distributed within the state and that the Flemish Government has direct links with other similar regions. That is the model that we take for the development of Wales.

Whether the Welsh people like it or not--clearly, some representatives do not like it--the position in the United Kingdom is changing. The people of Scotland are expressing themselves in various ways. I will not comment

Column 344

on the internal discussions which are going on in Scottish politics ; it would not be appropriate, particularly since I have a fraternal relationship with the Scottish National party. Whatever the specific debate, the momentum in Scottish politics is towards an elected Scottish government.

The people of Wales have to decide whether they want to end up as an addendum of an English region or whether they have a level of government adequate to meet the needs of Wales for the 21st century. In a sense the debate in the Pontypridd by-election disappointed me. I lay down a marker for the Vale of Glamorgan by-election in the hope that we will get a better debate about the future government of Wales, the future planning of the Welsh economy, the way in which services can be provided and the relationship between that and the role of Wales as a small European nation and region.

I went on record a few years ago alleging that the people of Estonia, that small republic in the Soviet Union with a population of 1 million, was likely to get autonomy sooner than the people of Wales and Scotland. If the raising of a flag is a sign of autonomy, it appears that Estonia has achieved that in the last few days. So the movement towards smaller nations being the building blocks of federal structures is the norm not just in western Europe and the European Community but in central and eastern Europe.

The irony is that when these "nationalist" movements such as the popular movement in Estonia, achieve a degree of political support, it is saluted widely by people who are unionist in the House--there are unionists on both sides of the Chamber--as a sign of democracy. But when it happens in Scotland and Wales it is "separatism", in the old jargon, or, now, the "dismembering" of the United Kingdom. Apparently it is appropriate to dismember the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics but not to create democracy in the United Kingdom.

We must realise that the future belongs to the federalists--those who believe that government is not located in one place, either in this House or in any other single assembly, but organised in levels of functions. The function appropriate to a locality is one level, as is the level of the region, the level of the historic nation as a cultural community, and the level of the international community such as the European Community, with the relations between the Community and its Mediterranean partners and its partners in central and eastern Europe. That is why we do not apologise for having a vision about the future of Wales.

It is also a deeply internationalist vision. Welsh nationalism is progressive. It implies that we see our problems and opportunities in common with other nationalities and people in Europe. If we believe in our heritage of a nuclear-free Wales and of ensuring the removal of nuclear weapons from Europe, starting with unilateral action, which we still believe in, and moving on to multilateral responses, which we also believe in, that policy can be implemented through the action that small nations such as Wales can take on the European stage. That may sound far removed from some contributions to the Welsh affairs debate, but it is important that a nationalist should intervene in the discussion with an element of internationalism.

Column 345

8.13 pm

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East) : Today is St. David's Day when we consider with pride and affection the fortunes of our own dear little country of Wales. It is even more special, perhaps, because we mourn the death of two colleagues whom we valued dearly, Sir Raymond Gower and Brynmor John. I endorse the generous tributes that have been paid to both of them.

It is also an occasion to say a big "croeso" to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). He made an admirable speech. During his election campaign the people of Pontypridd launched their own and the real valleys initiative. The poor Tory was left barely holding his deposit.

Our county councils are concerned about their relationship with the Welsh Office over the partnership arrangement with the EEC. That partnership, particularly relating to structural funds, should cover the preparation, financing, monitoring and assessment of operations. So far as I understand, the Welsh Office has not taken any initiative by way of informing or discussing with the county councils how the partnership might work. Apparently the relationship is better between the EEC and Scotland and other regions of England. The Commission considers that the partnership arrangement is being operated more successfully with every other member state of the Community. The lack of co-operation is difficult to understand. In his reply, will the Minister shed some light on the matter? Perhaps we may be told what steps are being taken to bring about a more balanced and harmonious partnership.

A matter which vitally concerns Newport is the proposed takeover of Plessey by GEC and Siemens of West Germany. Plessey is the major employer in Newport, with two factories in my constituency. The original one, developed in the 1970s, employs over 350 people ; the second one, the former Standard Telephones factory in Corporation road, employs 170. Three years ago, in my humble way, I worked closely with Sir John Clark, chairman of Plessey, to prevent a takeover. Now there is a fresh attempt. This tends to create unease amongst the work force. It undermines morale.

There is little doubt that, if the merger goes ahead, there will be further rationalisation. That could bring about hundreds of redundancies in Newport through work being transferred elsewhere. Surely the Monopolies and Mergers Commission will take the employment aspect into consideration before coming to a conclusion. Likewise, such a vast concentration of industrial might and virtual monopoly, with foreign linkage, in an area of strategic importance is not to be desired. Lord Weinstock's initiative should be rejected. It is better to retain an element of competition. I hope that the Secretary of State for Wales will throw his weight behind the opponents of the proposal.

Generally there has been a more optimistic outlook about the Welsh economy in recent months. Of course, there are black tides as well. The closure of the Velindre steelworks, with hundreds more redundancies, is one example. We have witnessed the decimation of the Welsh coalfields, with 12,000 jobs lost since the end of the strike. The proposed closures of the Marine colliery in Ebbw Vale and Cynheidre in Llanelli are pending. Other pits are now on the hit list. New investment in Wales has a difficult task to keep up with so many redundancies and closures.

Next Section

  Home Page