|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen) : The Carmarthen eastern bypass has been on the programme for the past 10, 15 or even 20 years. Will the Secretary of State assure me that it will be completed and that the starting date will be April 1996 ?
I note from the map that the right hon. Gentleman kindly sent us today that there is a large void north of
Column 1093Cardiff, in the area of the routes to the Teifi valley and Ceredigion. This is not considered a strategic route. The Carmarthen eastern bypass, however, is seen locally as the first stage of improvement to links to the north.
Mr. Redwood : I shall come to that point, as there are important road schemes in the area. I shall be making a change of alignment in the Camarthen eastern bypass to avoid building a route through a sensitive environmental area, but I intend to continue with the scheme.
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : The Secretary of State has given us all copies of a letter and a map, but has not included an explanation. I understand that the press and the rest of the media received such an explanation. I accept that the right hon. Gentleman is much better at colouring books than I am, but I cannot quite understand the map. Could he possibly provide us with an explanatory leaflet like that given to the media ?
Mr. Redwood : I thought that it would be for the convenience of hon. Members if they saw what I was publishing today, which is the map--the broad strategic outlines. I am now trying to give a few more details to show where my thinking has reached. The remaining details of all the different parts of the programme will be published in a month or two's time when they are all completed. However, I wanted the House to have an early opportunity to debate the matter. I gave Opposition Members an early opportunity by sending the map in advance so that they would know that I was going to do so.
Mr. Rogers : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is purely a matter of information. I wonder, through you, whether the courtesy could be extended to us that was extended to the media. The media received an explanatory form with the map, giving details of what was taking place. There are simply coloured lines on our map.
Mr. Redwood : I do not think that I have done anything wrong, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have given Opposition Members the map. I am now trying to tell them what the map means, in the proper place and at the proper time. After that I shall go out and brief the press, and that, I think, Opposition Members would also expect me to do. I am sure, however, that the press will be listening carefully to the statement that I am making, because that is the way in which they will learn, as will Opposition Members if they are interested in roads affecting their constituencies. If they listen carefully, they will realise that I have taken on board many of the representations from Opposition Members as well as from Conservative Members. I am also deferring the A494 Llanbedr bypass. I am not convinced of the present need for a new road through that area of outstanding natural beauty and I wish every effort to be made to improve safety without constructing that full bypass. I have already deleted the Hardwick Hill, Chepstow and Lower Town, Fishguard schemes, which aroused considerable local opposition and are not needed as major strategic routes.
Column 1094people with regard to the objections to the A494. The people who are most concerned are those who live in Llanbedr village, who, I know, desperately need that route. Traffic-calming measures have been tried, to no avail. Everything has been tried at that point. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider that.
As to the A55, which is now a strategic route, there is a great danger of all the development occurring along the strip of the A55, avoiding areas such as Denbigh and Ruthin in the vale of Clwyd in the north of my constituency. Is it possible for us to have a strategic route off the A55 into that area ?
Mr. Redwood : Of course I want roads to link other areas to the main strategic highways and later I shall mention the ones that are in the trunk roads programme. Others are in the local authority road programme. I hope that we reach an agreement with the local authority about which roads are needed--those that do least environmental damage for most economic benefit, because that is the balance that we have to strike.
Mr. Barry Jones : Was the right hon. Gentleman going to refer to the £25 million scheme, the Aston hill road-widening development, about which I know that he has had recent representations ? Does he propose to delay it or drop it ?
Work will continue on projects offering improved road safety or relief of towns and villages, where that can be done without severe environmental damage. I want improvements on roads in those areas and I am seeking more jobs and investment through better access to the major strategic highways. In south Wales, the A470 from Merthyr to the M4, the A4042 from Cwmbran to the M4 and the A449/A40, linking the M4 to the M50, are crucial. Thus, work is soon to start on the A470 improvement west of Merthyr, between Pentrebach and Cefn Coed. Construction has just started on the A4042 Llantarnam bypass, which will complete a fast dual carriageway link to the M4. I want good access to valleys communities from the A465 in the north and the M4 in the south--essential for new jobs.
In west Wales, my requirements are the A477 Pembroke dock to St. Clears and the A40 Fishguard to St. Clears to link Pembrokeshire to the M4. I attach importance to the A477 Sageston and Redberth bypass and I expect to publish a preferred route shortly. The A40 Whitland bypass is planned to start in 1994-95. South Gwynedd has also asked for better links to the A55. I intend to bring forward schemes on the A470, beginning with the route between Blaenau Ffestiniog and Betws-y-Coed, and the Llanrwst bypass, with further improvements to the A487 from Porthmadog to Caernarfon.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) : Although I am very grateful that the A470 is to be dealt with at last, I wish to highlight an issue of which the Secretary of State may already be aware. The very fact that the A55 is being extended to provide such a good road network means that it is vital that work on the A470 is undertaken. When is it likely that that work will be put in hand ?
Column 1095the link from south Gwynedd is important. We now have to programme all those matters finally to ensure that they fit in with the people, the public inquiry and the money available.
Mr. Ainger : Will the Secretary of State please enlighten me ? From reading the 1993 "Roads in Wales" supplement, I understood that the Sageston-Redberth bypass was due to start as the line had been agreed. The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the area between west Wales and St.Clears but announced nothing new ; he merely restated what was already in the 1993 supplement. Am I correct in that assumption ?
Mr. Redwood : I was trying to set out my priorities and my strategy. I said that the matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred were an important part of that strategy and I hope that, where they are important, we can proceed where it is technically feasible. I have been just as clear about the roads that will be slipping or are being cancelled where there is too much opposition to them, where the economic benefits do not fully justify the environmental damage that they could cause. [Interruption.] Does the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) wish to intervene ?
In north-east Wales, my priorities are to ensure enough road capacity to maintain the high quality link to the motorway network. Improvements will be made to the A550 and A494 and I shall take into account representations. In mid-Wales, I shall be examining a revised A470 Builth Wells bypass and I shall maintain the A458 scheme from Welshpool which will improve access to the M54. I shall be setting out the full details of my forward programme, with the dates, when a revised version of "Roads in Wales" is published in the spring.
Mr. Alex Carlile : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for offering to give way earlier ; I wanted to hear what he was going to say about mid-Wales. He said nothing about Newtown. The Welshpool bypass and the Llanidloes bypass have been beneficial, despite some road safety concerns. It would be logical to have a bypass to relieve heavy traffic through Newtown. Has the right hon. Gentleman any announcement to make ?
I shall be publishing the new version of "Roads in Wales" in the spring. The result of the changes that I am making is a programme much more sharply focused on economic needs and much less focused on developments in beautiful areas where the environmental damage could be bad.
My plans presume a continuing strong commitment to the trunk road programme. The plans can be paid for from the money available and, of course, each year I shall keep expenditure needs for the roads programme under review, ensuring that the money is available to carry out the
Column 1096priorities in the strategic network. The decisions will, of course, be announced at the time of the annual public expenditure survey. There are important links that are not trunk roads. I expect to continue to offer transport grant support for major local authority improvements, such as the third Dee crossing, which bypasses local communities and improves access to the Deeside industrial park. I attach special importance to the development of Cardiff-Wales airport and look forward to receiving suitable proposals for improving road links to it.
My roads programme will also benefit tourism, which is one of Wales's major industries. Projections show that there will be a significant increase in the number of domestic and overseas visitors to Wales in the years ahead. The majority of them use road transport, whether public or private.
Mr. Rogers : The Secretary of State has mentioned local authority roads. Is he going to mention the Porth bypass or the lower Rhondda trunk bypass ? When will they go in the programme ? I accept that the bypasses in some of the areas are needed, but in those major areas of population the whole development of the valleys has been strangled because of lack of investment in roads.
Mr. Redwood : I have made clear my intentions for trunk roads directly under my control. I look forward to seeing the plans from local authorities at the correct time to see whether I can assist with the spending permissions and the money that they need to get on with the job.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : The Secretary of State referred to tourism. Incidentally, I welcome his announcement about the A487 which is very important to Dwyfor and Meirionnydd. He will be aware of the importance of section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969 and the grants that are available under it. Can he give me an assurance that section 4 grants will remain available in Wales, in view of what has happened already in England and the changes that are taking place in Scotland ?
Mr. Redwood : We have no plans to change policy in that respect. My aim for 1994-95 is to provide better quality public services in Wales, building on the big advances made in recent years. In health, I intend to spend more on patients, doctors and nurses and less on administration. I have made it the overriding priority to hit the patients charter targets. No one should wait longer than one month for urgent treatment. No one should wait more than two years for non-urgent treatment. No one should have to wait more than 18 months if they need a new hip or knee or a cataract removed. We are close to hitting those targets for the first time and I gave another £1 million to get the lists down last week. Every patient should be given a unique appointment time that means something. I look forward to announcing to the House as soon as possible that we have met all those targets and can go on from there.
I have placed controls on all additional recruitment of administrative and managerial staff, as I want more of the extra money that I am making available to go to medical teams. I have amalgamated the posts of head of the health policy unit and director of the NHS by appointing an experienced official from within to a single post. That will unite health policy and management responsibilities and
Column 1097avoid the cost of bringing in someone new from outside. I have asked each health authority to reduce its staff to reflect the change in duties with the coming of trusts, where more of the management will reside at the hospital and less, therefore, should reside in the centre.
I shall be issuing a consultation document on ways to reduce the number of health authorities from 17 to between three and eight. It should be relatively easy to merge each family health services authority and district health authority, and to amalgamate some geographically. If we press ahead I want genuine mergers--where staff from both will be treated equally--and not take-overs.
I have asked the health care professions to lay emphasis on clinical effectiveness, and to review procedures to ensure that they are working well. I am examining the Welsh Health Common Services Authority to find savings there and to adjust its role to the new world of trusts.
As more people and money are freed for medical care, so I expect to raise standards further. We should ask why patients in hospital are woken very early in the morning when more sleep might help them and why they have to wait so long for breakfast once woken up. We should ask whether the treatment could suit the patient rather more, because getting better depends on feeling well looked after. I want the system to be patient- driven and so, I am sure, do the patients. I want the highest possible standards of medical care, which we get in most of our hospitals, and I wish the medical profession every success in pioneering and developing new and better treatments and maintaining the very high standards that it achieves.
I have asked that all the empty houses owned by NHS Wales should be sold. That will raise over £2 million by 1 April this year for health care in Wales and more subsequently.
Welsh agriculture is flourishing. Total grants and subsidies in the next financial year will increase by 8.3 per cent. over this financial year, well ahead of inflation although not a figure that Opposition Members have ever given any credence to, with their complaints about individual parts of the package. Aggregate farming income, that is net income excluding labour costs and taking into account interest payments, is forecast to have risen by 80 per cent. in 1993 compared with 1992. I know that the base was low, but the increase is most impressive and welcome.
Low interest rates, higher subsidies and better livestock prices are all helping. Quality products at competitive prices will find market outlets, and I am pleased to announce that exports of Welsh lamb now represent over 50 per cent. of production. Farming is important to the rural fabric of Wales. The Government have recognised that through the common policies that we are pursuing in Europe and at home.
To protect more of the beauty of the Welsh hillsides and valleys, I intend to place more and more emphasis on urban and valleys renewal, tempting the bulk, or much, of our new housing, commerce and industry on to reclaimed land. I am keen on urban villages and have given the go-ahead for one at Cardiff bay to join the one in Ebbw Vale. Every house built on a plot of reclaimed land is one fewer planning application in an area of high landscape value.
I want those villages to be more than just mere housing estates. They can provide housing with a heart, villages
Column 1098with centres that create communities. The strategic development scheme offers councils and communities the chance to do something bigger, with more vision, than the old urban programme and special projects schemes allowed.
Mr. Donald Anderson : There will be a general welcome for what the Secretary of State said about making building on reclaimed land a priority. What encouragement, by way of fiscal incentive or otherwise, is he considering to ensure that that is done, apart from the planning mechanisms ?
Mr. Redwood : There will be considerable encouragement through the large land reclamation programmes and I hope to agree stretching and ambitious targets with the Welsh Development Agency in the light of the substantial increase in grant and the receipts that it will be enjoying next year, because I want a big programme that clears more land and makes those sites available.
Next year I shall be looking, under the strategic development scheme, for one or two showcase schemes of several combined projects that will make a real impact on a whole area. The West Wales task force area and Deeside industrial development area are two of the larger beneficiaries this year. Valleys development also remains high on my list of priorities, and also development in south Gwynedd in the wake of the power station announcement.
The programme for the valleys is an exciting one. This year it will benefit from the re-signalling of the valley lines, new sports and leisure facilities for Rhondda and six major local strategies bringing jobs and a better environment to Amman and Gwendraeth, the upper Llynfi valley, Mid Rhondda, Merthyr, Tredegar and Cynon valley.
Wales will succeed in the next century only if our children do well at school in this. I am pleased to report to the House a sharp improvement in exam results over the past year, and I pay tribute again to the many teachers and students who have worked hard to achieve this.
As I reported to the Welsh Grand Committee last week, standards need to be raised much higher overall, especially in some schools where the results are well below what is required. I am expecting governors and head teachers in those schools to take action now. I do not want to have to use my powers under the Education Act 1993--I would far rather schools put their own house in order--but I shall use them if there is no action. The inspectors have made clear what needs to be done. [Interruption.] Instead of making silly comments from a sedentary position, Opposition Members should be behind me in that because they should want those children to do well and they should want those governors to take action before I have to move in. The inspectors have said what needs to be done. There is no time like the present to take action. Surely we do not want another year of poor performance from those schools.
The Government will provide the training places and college places needed to meet our ambitious targets.
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn) : Will the right hon. Gentleman's hopes for development and improvement in Welsh schooling, which we all share, be helped or hindered by the fact that Gwent county council has been forced this year, because of his spending limits, to cut expenditure on education by £2.6 million, including reductions in additional pupil spending ? When we already have 32 pupils per class, on average, in our primary schools, does
Column 1099he think that the education of those young children will be assisted or retarded by the failure to invest properly in education ?
Mr. Redwood : I want to see proper investment in their education. That is why I increased the grant to county councils--I did not cut it--and gave them the opportunity to increase it. They then told me that they would have to put their council taxes up by 15 per cent., but they are not coming out at anything like that. They are now, through the right hon. Gentleman, saying that they are making reductions, where they have extra money and extra permission which they should be using for that priority sector. There is nothing more important than dealing with the needs of our schoolchildren. We have ambitious targets for our training places and our college places. In 1979, one in eight went to university. Three in 10 now do so. One in three is our aim by the end of the century. By 2000, we want one out of two to obtain two A-levels or the equivalent, where three out of 10 do so at the moment. Training and enterprise councils have been asked to meet the demand for all 16 and 17-year-olds to have a guaranteed place on the youth training programme if they need it. Later this year I shall be introducing an engineering apprenticeship scheme.
Investors and employers tell me that a well-trained work force is one of the most crucial factors that they look for when considering where to base their business. Wales is already well known worldwide for its skilled and flexible work force. We need to train more of our young people to high international standards to accommodate the growing army of businesses expanding and setting up here.
Mr. Kinnock : On the subject of high international standards of qualification--to which we would all aspire for the young people whom we represent--is the right hon. Gentleman aware that support for postgraduate education in Wales has been radically reduced over recent years, during which time the Conservative Government have been in power ? There is now effectively little or no support available at the discretion of county councils for young people who seek supplementary qualifications after graduating. Does not the right hon. Gentleman believe that powers and finance should be restored to county councils so that young people with first degrees can get Master of Business Administration degrees or other secondary qualifications, to enhance their chances of gainful employment and their ability to compete with others in the world ? They are now being severely disadvantaged despite their talents.
Mr. Redwood : Local authorities have considerable discretion in how they choose to spend their money, and the money increases year by year. It is interesting to note that when elections are due, councils can find more money to keep taxes down or to back special projects. Quangos have been much in the news. The Labour party has been active in slating bodies that it set up and has been short-sighted in overlooking the good work that they do and the wide range of people--of all political persuasions and of none-- who help them do it. Labour lives in a dream world, believing that we appoint people because they are Conservatives rather than for their talent. It chooses to overlook the fact that we appoint many who are not Conservatives : four Labour councillors on the Cardiff Bay body, a leading trade unionist on the Welsh Development Agency and a senior Plaid Cymru figure chairing the
Column 1100Welsh Language Board, to say nothing of the political researcher to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), who is on the Welsh Arts Council.
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West) : That point has now been made three times in the past few days from the Government Front and Back Benches, so will the Secretary of State accept it from me that my researcher, Councillor Jane Davidson, was in the first place elected to Cardiff city council and then nominated from the council to be a member of the Welsh Arts Council ? Her appointment was initially vetoed by a Welsh Office Minister, in spite of the nomination by the Welsh Arts Council. Only when she was nominated a second time by that body was the political veto finally lifted.
Mr. Redwood : The hon. Gentleman seems to be confirming the fact that his political researcher is on the Welsh Arts Council, which was the point that I was trying to make. I can assure the House that I shall continue to appoint on the basis of suitability for the job. That is the correct criterion and I propose to stick to it. I can also assure hon. Members that I, like the House, expect high standards of our public bodies and councils. Each body operates under a framework of law and rules. I shall set targets each year for what we expect, and debate progress when required in the House. Each body has a chief executive and an accounting officer responsible for ensuring compliance with the rules. The Public Accounts Committee is there to check up on his success.
I intend to control the number of such bodies and the numbers of people involved in them--I do not normally favour large boards. I shall, as I have already announced, seek reductions in the number of health authorities following the establishment of several new health trusts.
Last week in the Welsh Grand Committee we were treated to the third 15 from the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) embarrassed even the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) by slamming the Labour Government of the 1970s. How right he was. Last weekend, the hon. Member for Caerphilly showed that he had learnt from the new boy. He made news. He hit the headlines with a speech, which is pretty unusual. Even more remarkably, I found myself in agreement with what he was reported to have said. He slammed Labour for its "cult of arrogance" in Welsh local government. So now we have it from the highest Labour source in Wales that Labour local councillors do not always know best, that Labour is weak when it comes to internal party democracy, and it does not listen to the people.
Having made a speech in praise of harmony and sweetness, the hon. Member for Caerphilly tried to stop the hon. Members for Neath (Mr. Hain) and for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) attending the Parliament for Wales conference in Llandrindod this weekend, but I hear that they will disobey him.
Mr. Hanson : As a member of the third 15, as the Secretary of State so kindly puts it, I thank him for giving way. Will he accept it from me that, whatever the situation of the Labour Government of the 1970s, there was more opportunity to go to university in those days, and more
Column 1101opportunity for council housing and for employment, and that everything that he does reduces those opportunities ? People like me would not be where we are today without the opportunities provided by the Labour Government.
Mr. Redwood : The hon. Gentleman doth protest too much, and wriggle too much, because he knows that my charge has gone home. Moreover, he has not been listening, because I have just told the House how many people are now going to university compared with the numbers in the 1970s when Labour was in charge and, on the hon. Gentleman's own admission, doing so badly.
So, we hear that Labour Members are not allowed to do what they wish with their weekends, but that the eloquence of the hon. Member for Caerphilly, aided by the wandering minstrel for Cardiff, West, has proved to be not up to the job. Handing the Welsh economy to those gentlemen would be like handing the car keys and a bottle of Welsh whisky to a teenage boy.
Well may the hon. Member for Caerphilly warn his troops, for he hears and sees the march of changing attitudes and changing votes in many parts of Wales where Labour used to hold unchallenged sway. Indeed, he himself should listen to the people of Wales. The majority do not want 16 as the age of consent or an assembly that would mean more taxes and more laws for Wales, and the majority do not take kindly to his stubborn refusal to come forward with an alternative budget for Wales to show what he could, or would like to, do. He is out of touch as well as out of power--and now he is out of sorts with his own party.
The Wales that we want is a successful outward-looking country, sure of its own history, language and culture and of the importance of the Union. It is a Wales that is world class in business, first class at rugby and top of the class in education. Wales is showing the way with jobs, better health care and higher educational standards. Doing it the Conservative way, we will win.
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly) : First, I register my strong disappointment that the Secretary of State was not prepared to insist in Cabinet that our traditional Welsh day debate be held on 1 March. As we now have a Secretary of State who does not want Welsh to be an official language in Wales, and does not believe the red dragon to be a clear enough symbol for Wales in Europe, I suppose that I should not be surprised to find that we are having our St. David's day debate on 3 March.
The Secretary of State is clearly not a happy man, and his speech showed just how out of touch he is. He showed a distinct and uncharacteristic lack of courtesy when he made a cheap personal attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Perhaps you will confirm, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it is a matter of common courtesy in the House that if an hon. Member intends to make a preconceived personal attack on another Member, notice should be given. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he told my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover that he had designed in advance a personal attack on him ?
Mr. Davies : That is clear. It is unacceptable for the Secretary of State to conduct himself in that way. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover does not need me to defend him, but it has to be said that while he has been a Member of the House he has never launched into an offensive or unjustified attack on the private life of any other hon. Member. My hon. Friend has never moralised about the private lives of other Members and it ill becomes a member of a Cabinet and a Government both now enmeshed in personal scandal and political corruption at the highest level to indulge in name calling of that nature.
For the first half hour of his speech, the Secretary of State talked about his roads programme. He then said that he would announce that roads programme later in the spring. It is a comment on his lack of command of his brief that he is unable to make a speech without packing it with information which he knows will be the subject of a statement in a month's time when, hopefully, we can debate it at length. I welcome his announcement of improvements, in particular, to the A465, the A470 and the A55, but will he confirm that his announcement disguises a cut of £10 million in other elements of the road programme ? He shakes his head, but that was the basis of the briefings that he was giving the press all day.
Does the Secretary of State accept that the observation of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) commands the support of the Opposition ? That road should form the major link between the industrial heartlands of south-east Wales and north-west Wales. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the announced cut in the roads programme will mean that roads in many of our towns and villages in Wales will be less safe, bypasses will not be built, roads and junctions will be in a worse condition and many unsafe bridges in the valleys communities will be deprived of much-needed investment ?
Mr. Redwood : I have not announced a cut in the roads programme. As I said, I have not changed the figures announced in the Budget for Wales. Next year, I shall review the money available to ensure that it is up to the task of meeting all the priorities that I have set out. I have announced proposals on some big and expensive roads--and am bringing them forward. I also reject the hon. Gentleman's slurs about my lack of respect for the Welsh language and the red dragon. Of course I am proud of the dragon of Wales, and I use it on the promotional literature with which I am involved.
Mr. Davies : The Secretary of State's record on that matter speaks for itself. Expenditure on the roads programme will be substantially less than it was last year. I do not know how the Secretary of State can present that as anything other than a cut.
Nine months ago, the Secretary of State's first parliamentary duty was to remove from Welsh Members the right to help frame Welsh legislation. We could be generous and assume that he was merely doing the bidding of the Government's business managers. Subsequently, however, we have had ample evidence that the right hon. Gentleman is less sympathetic to Wales, less inclined to
Column 1103recognise our distinctive culture and values, and less willing to work with the grain of Welsh public opinion than any other holder of his office. Any one of his predecessors would regard that as a criticism.
I have no doubt that the present Secretary of State views the concerns of those of us who represent Welsh constituencies, not with understanding, nor even with hostility, but with indifference. After all, his political agenda is not focused on Wales, its people, its institutions or the prospects and aspirations of its people. His ambition is not for Wales ; it is for the ideological leadership of the Tory party. The Secretary of State does not represent Wales in the Cabinet. He merely uses the place that Wales has given him in the Cabinet as a platform for the promotion of his right-wing views. The Secretary of State's office brings together the major Departments of State--education with training and employment, environment with agriculture, and health with local government. It has enormous potential to harness political influence to achieve major political, economic, environmental and social gains. Given the challenges that we face in Wales in the last decade of this century, a Secretary of State who puts Wales first would seek economic advance for our country alongside the motor regions of Europe. He would ensure the development of a coherent policy for the sustainable use of our environment and natural resources. He would seek to develop social policy to reflect our co-operative and community values. Above all, he would seek to recast our political structures to allow the fuller expression of our national identity. He would seek to sweep away the quango system, with its attendant sleaze and corruption, to exert democratic control and scrutiny over the Welsh Office and to give those of us in Wales a greater opportunity to shape our destiny in the developing Europe of the regions.
Instead of grasping any of those opportunities, the present Secretary of State has been hesitant and accident prone, with the tedium of his time- worn politics relieved only by a series of spectacular political own goals. We know that he is not happy with the advice that he receives from his civil servants. He has been only too ready to pin the blame on them for some of his obvious failings. There must be a dream factory in the Welsh Office. There is a view that the Secretary of State's "initiatives" and his use of extravagant forms of self praise can somehow provide a substitute for policy.
Who advised the Secretary of State to take his single parents initiative ? I am not suggesting for a moment that the Secretary of State is responsible for any of the single parents in Wales. It is a sad fact, however, that the only impact and lasting contribution to British political debate of the present incumbent has been to put into the public mind his obsession with the prospect of teenage mums obtaining council houses. It is now clear that his St. Mellons speech was the opening shot of the Conservative party's "back to basics" campaign. However, we should not intrude too far into private grief : that initiative did not endear him to the Prime Minister. The Secretary of State then announced his health initiative. Presumably, he abrogates all responsibility for the past 14 years of Conservative health policy. That was certainly his message when he roundly condemned the bureaucracy and inefficiency created by the Government's health reforms. He was not flavour of the month with the Secretary of State for Health--the lady was definitely not amused.
Column 1104The Secretary of State tried a quango initiative. He made some cheap comments about the research assistant of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). Three weeks ago, I asked the Secretary of State why he does not make information available on the political affiliation of every person he appoints to a quango in Wales. Such information is collected on those appointed as magistrates. If that policy is suitable for them, why should not information be collected and published on those people who exercise trust and spend billions of pounds of public money ? Instead of using selective and pejorative examples, why will the Secretary of State not provide all the facts so that we can make an appropriate judgment ?
When the Secretary of State tried his quango initiative, he called the chaps together and told them that they must do better. Apparently, he still does not understand that democratic scrutiny is far more effective than private exhortation. In any event, that initiative collapsed with the fiasco of his appointment of a top Tory living as a tax exile in Monaco to head the Welsh Development Agency. If the Secretary of State is to be believed, he did not know that he was appointing a top Tory. He pleaded incompetence to defend himself against the charge of nepotism.
The Secretary of State's latest initiative has been on education standards. He and his policy were humiliated by my hon. Friends the Members for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) and for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) in the Welsh Grand Committee last week. It is small wonder that the Secretary of State is now shunned by his Cabinet colleagues for the embarrassment that he has caused them. There is a whispering campaign against him in the Tory party. There is an open campaign against him in the media, with The Times newspaper calling for his dismissal. According to an opinion poll out tonight, under his stewardship the Tory party in Wales has collapsed to its lowest ever rating of 11 per cent. He is so reviled by the Prime Minister that he is semi-publicly traduced in the foulest language--"bastard" being one of the more printable epithets used to describe him. That sort of record takes some beating, even by the standards of the present Government. My heart went out to the Secretary of State when I read in the Western Mail on 11 February that the Conservative party was to cancel its annual conference in Wales. The paper reported : "The Tories are set to cancel this year's Welsh party conference to concentrate on minimising their losses in the Euro- elections. Embarrassed Tory party managers have admitted difficulties in trying to arrange this summer's Welsh party conference"
presumably the difficulty was that nobody wanted to go.
"The Conservatives expect bad news from the first and fear a thrashing in the second as voters take revenge for VAT on domestic fuel and higher income tax bills."
How much would the Secretary of State miss the renewed opportunity for a further lusty rendering of "Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau ?" The Welsh Labour group Christmas party would never be the same again. With that uncanny grasp of Welsh politics and the instinct that told him that Rhondda Conservative association was the proper platform for a major speech on education, he announced that, after all, there would be a Conservative conference in Wales in the current year. The next day the Western Mail duly reported :
"Redwood Wants To Rescue Conference.
Column 1105Welsh Secretary John Redwood has stepped in to save this year's Welsh Conservative conference which has been threatened with cancellation because of a clash with the Euro-elections in June." Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West) rose
"He wants a one-day rally after a one-day conference, possibly late in May, to form part of the election campaign for seats in the European Parliament on June 9th."
He is obviously so isolated that neither his press department in the Welsh Office, nor Conservative party central office, nor what remains of the Conservative party in Wales had informed him of what was in the Western Mail two weeks earlier on 26 January, when it reported :
"Party In Election Write Off.
The Tory party have written off Wales in this summer's local and European elections. Cash draft high command and Central Office have decided to limit support to the party in the Principality to a minimum because they have no hope of taking over any of the handful of towns where a third of the seats are up for election on May 5th and there is little chance of taking any of the five Euro seats in the principality from Labour on June 9th. No doubt the few Tories remaining in Wales will have a few words to say to him as they witness the terminal decline of their party, their failure to win a single European seat, their virtual disappearance from Welsh local Government and, on the basis of the present polls, the loss of every single parliamentary constituency at the next general election."
Mr. Richards : If the hon. Gentleman must insist on flaunting the smattering of Welsh that he has picked up, he should try to get it right. It is not "Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nadau" : it mutates to "Nhadau"--there is an "h" in it. The hon. Gentleman should learn that before he flaunts it on the Floor of the House.