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Column 1141accident of black Wednesday--I still refer to it as black Wednesday--many other factors have also led to an improvement in income. Many other factors have led to an improvement in income. One of them was falling interest rates, which has been a great help to the farming industry. We also have seen a significant increase in market prices. That is the truth of the situation.
For those who have them, quotas have buttressed agriculture, in cattle and sheep production, but those who do not have quotas have become involved in a mammoth bureaucratic exercise. Hon. Members who represent completely agricultural constituencies will know what I am talking about.
On several occasions, I have expressed disappointment about at least a few of the recent decisions as they have affected farmers in Wales. I have always made my position clear with regard to the hill livestock compensatory allowance, which is regarded as a central part of support for farmers in Wales. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) will recall that I raised that issue in the Welsh Grand Committee at the sitting before last, so it is some time since the matter arose. I was the first person to be concerned about the issue.
Agriculture has also been buttressed by arable aid. The Secretary of State is aware of my consternation--that is the lightest word that I can use in the circumstances--at the announcement about the arable aid scheme. He wants to sweep away regulation, and I agree with him. In those circumstances, the easiest way to sweep it away is to have an England and Wales region for the scheme. Everyone--even the nationalist party--wants that because it is the way to resolve the matter. To split Wales for the purposes of arable aid on the basis of LFA and non-LFA is deeply damaging to cereal farmers who happen to be within the LFA boundary.
Not many farmers are able to take advantage of the livestock premiums that are available within the LFA. It is no good telling a specialist cereal grower that he is in the LFA and, as a result, is eligible for other premiums because we have introduced a quota system. Unless he was in livestock production in 1991, he will not be able to get his livestock production now and receive those premiums, so that is totally irrelevant.
Another matter of great importance is that cereal producers in less favoured areas form a more substantial group than many would recognise. Only last night, I looked at the statistics published by the Welsh Office, which show that the majority of arable farmers in Wales are based in less favoured areas. There is more arable land in the less favoured areas of Wales than in any other area of Wales. That also underlines their difficult position. We shall have to come back to that issue.
The tourism industry is always important in the rural parts of Wales, and I am pleased that a number of tourists will be attending a Parliament for Wales campaign meeting this weekend, which will be held in Llandrindod Wells in my constituency. [Interruption.] I shall be there, in a sense, as the home Member. I am talking about the tourists from the other parties who will attend the meeting. When I began my speech, I referred to the way that things used to be in the valleys of Wales. We now know that Labour Members and their friends wish to revisit the 1970s by raising again their ideas about the need for a
Column 1142democratic Welsh assembly. As Labour Members rightly said from sedentary positions, I intend to attend the meeting for the Parliament for Wales campaign. However, I intend to do so because I think that I will be virtually the only person present who was among the 83 per cent. of the people in Wales who voted against the setting up of a Welsh assembly on the last occasion.
I point out to those people--so many of them are on the Opposition Benches- -who talk about a democratic deficit in Wales that the people of Wales have been given an opportunity to speak on this issue. They spoke resoundingly in a way that Labour Members did not like, so Labour Members decided that in the future the people of Wales would not be given a vote on it at all because they could not be trusted on the issue. If one reads the statements made subsequently by the protagonists for a Welsh assembly, one will see that the elitism is evident among those sitting on the Opposition Benches rather than among those sitting on the Government Benches. Labour Members spoke of people who had rejected the advice of the intelligentsia in Wales. I am sorry that so many people in the Labour party, churches, universities and so on believe that in some way the lot of the people in Wales could be advantaged by setting up a separatist assembly. When I was first elected to the House and made my maiden speech, I made it clear that for all the time that I am here I am determined that Wales will remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. The Parliament for Wales campaign is a wedge to take us down the road to separatism. We can say that loudly with a certain knowledge that the people of Wales, when asked to judge this issue, agreed with us, not them.
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen) : It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), despite his final remarks, because he is a lively contributor to debates. I find it easy to listen to and disagree with him. His speech was in marked contrast to the earlier contribution from the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards). Perhaps some time later this evening or next week, I hope that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor will have a few words with the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West in terms of demeaning the House and Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman put her in a very difficult position. I do not know what he had in mind when he made his wild allegations about whoever he saw at that moment. It was a pleasure to listen to the regional speech of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor.
The Secretary of State made a statement on the roads programme. Although I expressed some pleasure that the Whitland bypass was to go ahead, in an intervention I asked the right hon. Gentleman for an assurance about the Carmarthen eastern bypass. We have been waiting for that bypass for the past 20 years. There is appalling congestion in Carmarthen town throughout the year. It is especially horrific in the tourist season, but I can promise that we have appalling congestion problems in the rush hour, at 4 o'clock and 5 o'clock in the evenings and on Wednesdays when there is a market in town. I want that bypass to go ahead with the utmost urgency, as do the people of Carmarthen. I got a reasonable assurance from the Secretary of State, but I hope that the bypass will go ahead and the Government will stick to the timetable.
Column 1143The map of Wales that was circulated as part of the announcement shows that there is a large empty area where there appears to be no roads at all. That is north of Carmarthen, between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. There seems to be a void where one must imagine that there is an enormous mountain range which we cannot cross. Indeed, that is good agricultural land.
Unfortunately, the road links north of Carmarthen to Llanybyther, Newcastle Emlyn and up towards Aberystwyth should be one of the strategic routes. Dyfed county council believes that the northern links are extremely important and I hope that the eastern bypass will go ahead. We see that bypass as the first stage of a major development programme of our northern links.
I shall make most of my remarks about a Welsh assembly and the proposed forum on which there have been some developments this week. In contrast to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor, I have always been a firm believer in the need for some devolution of power away from London to all the regions of Britain. In the referendum on St. David's day in 1979, I worked hard for the yes campaign and it was a deep disappointment when the vote went substantially the other way. The hon. Gentleman did not recognise, however, that there has been a fundamental change in public opinion in Wales during the past 15 years. We have endured 15 years of Conservative Government that have gone absolutely against the grain of all the people of Wales. That change of opinion applies also within the Labour party in Wales at local government and parliamentary level and among our supporters. Where once the Labour party looked on an assembly as a concession to nationalism, we now see an assembly in a different light, a Labour-controlled bulwark against the excesses of any future Conservative Government.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones) : The hon. Gentleman suggests that there has been a change ofopinion on the subject of a regional assembly for Wales. How can he demonstrate that that is the case ? If he is so confident that there has been a change of opinion, why is he determined to refuse to give the people of Wales a say on the matter ?
Mr. Williams : An opinion poll conducted by BBC Wales has been referred to this evening, but I do not know whether the question was put in that poll. [Hon. Members :-- "It was."] I am told that the question was included.
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) : I was one of those who, in 1978-79, opposed the setting up of a Welsh assembly. Like my hon. Friend, I realise that there has been a massive change of opinion in Wales, largely as a consequence of 15 years of a Government who were not elected by the Welsh people. The opinion poll run by the BBC showed that 45 per cent. of the Welsh people were in favour of an elected assembly, 22 per cent. were against and 33 per cent. did not know but were likely to support the idea of an assembly.
Mr. Jonathan Evans rose
Mr. Gwilym Jones rose
Mr. Jones : The hon. Gentleman is kind in giving way, but he is still missing the question. If he is so confident that there has been a change of opinion, why is he determined not to give the people of Wales a say in the matter ?
Mr. Williams : The Labour party will contest the next election, as we did at the previous election, by being firmly committed to the setting up of a Welsh assembly. Hon. Members may cast their minds back to the general election, where 72 per cent. of the people of Wales voted for parties that wanted a Welsh assembly.
If the Minister wants government by referendums, why do the Government not offer the people of Britain a referendum on their tax policies or, better still, call a general election ? We see the matters as being resolved at the next general election, when our policy will be to set up assemblies for Scotland and for Wales in the first year in power. We need an assembly to democratise the work of the Welsh office, and to take over its role in education, highways, health and the Welsh Development Agency. The assembly would run Wales, not by quango, but with elected and accountable local people. There is to be a rally in Newport called "Forward to Victory", which will launch our European election campaign. There will be four main themes at the rally--the government of Wales, the health service, unemployment and the place of women in Europe. We will have a resounding rally with many good speakers. We know that there is a rival event at Llandrindod, which has been organised by the Parliament for Wales campaign. My view is that if we want an assembly or a regional tier of government in Wales, the only way to achieve that is by electing a Labour Government. All my energies in that regard will be channelled via the Labour party.
Earlier, we debated the setting up of an interim measure until we get a Labour Government and an assembly. The interim measure would set up a forum to receive reports back from the Committee of the Regions, and other matters. Unfortunately, the origin of the proposal which the Secretary of State has made is shrouded in mystery and is highly undemocratic. It came out of that dirty deal last year over the Maastricht treaty where, to win the support of nationalist Members, the Government agreed to establish a forum not only of council representatives but of the European Parliament.
Mr. Llwyd : Does the hon. Gentleman realise exactly why the Committee of the Regions is being set up ? It will deal with regional policies and structures, and so forth. Those matters are frankly beyond the competence of people in local government, and I mean competence in the strictest terms. That is the point I am getting at.
Mr. Williams : I will come back to that point in my own way in a minute, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me. The Labour party supports in principle the establishment of an interim forum, but that forum must be acceptable to our county councils and district councils, and it must have transparent accountability and democracy. At the moment, the Assembly of Welsh Counties and the Council of Welsh Districts are two all-Wales forums in existence.
We propose the development and the merger of those organisations as the unitary authorities are set up. There should then be a council for Wales, based on the principle of one member of the council per 100,000 people in each
Column 1145of the unitary authorities. That would make a total of 41 members representing all the new unitary authorities in Wales and would give a neat structure for the council, or Cyngor Cymru.
The council need not meet just four times a year, and it would not just take reports from the representatives of the Committee of the Regions. In a sense, it would inherit the work which is now done by the Assembly of Welsh Counties and the Council of Welsh Districts, and the bodies would evolve naturally into the council for Wales. I will answer the point made by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). It is absurd that Members of Parliament will serve on the body to which he refers. Our job is here at Westminster, and I find that I have quite enough work with a constituency to look after and my work in London. The last thing I want is a third part of my job based in Cardiff.
I read carefully a press release from the nationalist party last Monday, in which they referred to Bavaria and Catalonia as having their own Parliaments and members of the Committee of the Regions, who then report back to their Parliaments. There was no mention of having Members of Parliament from Berlin or Madrid also taking part in the discussions.
The arrangement which the nationalist party is trying to foist on the Government, and which the Government are reluctantly willing to accept, would be unprecedented in Europe. No region in Britain would have such an arrangement. No region in Europe would have such a report-back mechanism. I take rather harshly the doubts that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy expressed about the competence of local government representatives.
misinterpretation on my part. The hon. Gentleman is a lawyer and he should not use technical legal language on a scientist. The legal meaning of the word is different from the colloquial meaning. In Wales, despite the comments of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West, we have elected councillors. They are people of the people who know about their local area and have long experience, much longer than most Members of Parliament, of the affairs of local government. They work in Wales. They live in Wales. They travel across Wales. Members of the Council of Welsh Districts and of the Assembly of Welsh Counties criss-cross Wales in a way that ordinary Members of Parliament do not.
Elected councillors know the towns, the industries, the infrastructure and the roads of Wales and the highway problems that we have. They know where people work. They know our problems much better than the average Member of Parliament because our main job is naturally in Westminster. It is my firm conviction that local councillors know best what is needed in terms of advice to the Committee of the Regions.
If we set up the new body, it should, of course, appoint its three representatives on the Committee of the Regions. They would be accountable to the council. It is a curious structure in which the appointment is made by the
Column 1146Secretary of State and the accountability is to an amorphous body that is not democratic. The Labour party and I see the new arrangement as an interim measure.
Mr. Murphy : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene a second time. He is, of course, aware that of the three representatives of Wales on the Committee of the Regions, the only one who is directly elected is our Labour representative.
Mr. Williams : Absolutely. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. It is an appalling commentary on the structure of government in Wales that the Secretary of State has the power to make nominations and has nominated a Conservative Member of the House of Lords. No one knows him in Wales. He has no reputation. The third member of the committee comes from a party that has only 8 per cent. of the support
Mr. Jonathan Evans : The hon. Gentleman has derided the Conservative representative and the Plaid Cymru representative. Does he believe that all the representatives should be members of the Labour party ? Is that his case ?
Mr. Williams : No. We are willing to set up a mechanism that would ensure that the three representatives on the Committee of the Regions accurately reflected political opinion in Wales. We could build such a mechanism into the structure of the election of the
The interim measure may last only three or four years.
representation. We are not talking about the fact that the three representatives on the European Committee are elected to their ward as councillors. We are saying that the Labour party representative was directly elected by all the Labour councillors in Wales, whether county or district councillors.
Mr. Williams : Absolutely. I am grateful once again to my hon. Friend. I hope that when the Secretary of State reflects during the next few weeks on the comments that have been made about the forum, particularly in the early part of the debate, and receives representatives from the Assembly of Welsh Counties and the Council of Welsh Districts, he will decide that the Labour party's proposal goes with the grain of Welsh local government and makes much more sense in the European context ; otherwise, the new body that will be set up will be an unusual, very odd body.
The forum will have an interim existence because the Labour party wants a Welsh assembly. The people of Wales want a Welsh assembly with real powers, not just influence. The forum of Welsh counties will have some influence, but we want a body that is democratically elected, with real powers to administer the whole budget of the Welsh Office--that £6 billion--to take charge of the health service, the education system and the infrastructure in Wales and the Welsh Development Agency. Some comments were made earlier about the problems of the
Column 1147Welsh Development Agency and its lack of accountability. The WDA should be directly accountable. It should be part of the Welsh assembly.
My time scale for setting up an assembly is as follows. If we have our general election in 1996, in the first year of a Labour Government--1997-98 --we will introduce the legislation. We could have elections to the regional assembly in 1999. As we turn into the new century, we will have a structure of government in Wales befitting of the 21st century.
Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) : The past 12 months have allowed us to try to get to know the Secretary of State a little better. I have to confess that I did not know much about him. I think that some of my hon. Friends suffered from the same ignorance. We did not know what made the new Secretary of State tick. At least in the past 12 months we have had a chance to take a closer look. I agree with those of my hon. Friends who observed that we have probably for the first time a Secretary of State who at least has agendas. That has become clear. He has an agenda that might have something to do with Welsh needs and an agenda within the Conservative party. The second agenda is one for him, except where it might become inimical to or in conflict with the interests of Welsh people and Welsh needs. At least we can offer him some advice as he proceeds on his second agenda.
I draw to the Secretary of State's attention an observation once made by Mr. Harold Macmillan. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is not of the same persuasion or tendency, or perhaps even of the same party as Mr. Harold Macmillan. Nevertheless, it might be worth his remembering a remark made by the former Prime Minister and great Tory leader. He once said that the Cabinet was a prison without bars. The Secretary of State has begun to find in some of his attitudes and in his approach to the issues that he has raised in the past 12 months that the Cabinet has been a bit of a prison.
At least the Secretary of State is a quick learner. He has picked up one or two Welsh habits, one of which is a belief in crusades. The Welsh have always had a strong belief in evangelical crusades. Recent press releases have been headed :
"Redwood calls for a crusade to set the best education standards".
Then the Secretary of State wished to lead a crusade through all the corners of the Welsh health service. So the right hon. Gentleman is following a good Welsh tradition in backing or being part of a great crusade.
The crusade on health launched by the Secretary of State was the first in Welsh history to begin with an apology, after he had made an interesting statement. It began :
"I am a child of the National Health Service".
He then found that he had ruffled the feathers of the Secretary of State for Health, who did not like his statement. So we had a sort of apology.
I was more interested and more pleased in some respects that the Secretary of State appeared to take some of his ideas forward, unlike the Under- Secretary of State who, when I asked him how much progress was being made on the health crusade, took a month to reply. He gave a list similar to those that we have had many times in the past 12 months about so-called successes in the health service. At
Column 1148least this time the right hon. Gentleman appeared to take some of the ideas in his original statement about being a child of the national health service further forward. I hope that he pursues some of those targets and observations.
My family has a long tradition of nurses and sisters in the health service. The scrapping of sisters and matrons, who form the core of the health service, was a bad move as they were some of the best audit officers, with real responsibility for the running of wards. They were prudent about the resources available. It was not a creation of the Labour party which led to managerial problems and the present position where managers and contracts are discussed more than service to patients. We need to redress all the mechanisms that were set up to try to create a new internal market but which led to a great increase in salaries and numbers of managerial staff. Let us get back to the concept of a service and we shall not go far wrong. I agree with the Secretary of State when he said :
"Nor should the health service be too ready to want to destroy all the great old hospitals of Wales. . . . it is not always the right thing to do to seek to build on a green field site and bulldoze the existing one"
which has support and affection in the community. I hope that we shall see the practical application of those remarks. If the Mid-Glamorgan health authority ever proposes a plan to vandalise the health service in our community by closing Mardy hospital in my area or Mountain Ash hospital in the area of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd), I hope that the Secretary of State will stand by those principles rather than the consequences of some of the health proposals that have been put to us, often in the name of so-called efficiency and internal market changes.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) : Will my hon. Friend extend his plea to the Secretary of State to look also at the venerable institutions in South Glamorgan, for example Cardiff royal infirmary ? Old hospitals that have served the community well have not necessarily come to the end of their time.
Mr. Rowlands : My hon. Friend makes his point forcefully. Like all good crusades, we have a good text from which to work. I hope that my hon. Friend will invoke the text that I have drawn to his attention. He might also invoke the next part of that text, when the Secretary of State went on to say :
"Nor will I be very pleased if the search for economies begins and ends with the search for ward closures."
That is exactly what has been happening in the past couple of years. Searches for economies have been about ward closures and reducing services and not about employing trained and skilled nurses. That is what has gone wrong. I hope that there will be a reversal not of some historic policy but of recent Government policy, the consequences of which the Secretary of State describes vividly and, quite rightly, pejoratively. I hope that the text of the crusade will be implemented in practical decision making.
Mr. Ainger : Is my hon. Friend aware that the recent minutes of the Pembrokeshire health trust contain a statement by a senior trust executive that, as the provider of health care in Pembrokeshire, the trust should be careful not to exceed the number of patients it is contracted to treat with Pembrokeshire health authority ? In other words, if one more patient than the number in the contract is treated, more money will be demanded.
Mr. Rowlands : My hon. Friend draws attention to one of the most insidious developments in the health service. As a result of contracts and strict budgets, there is now a real danger that the treatment of people will not be undertaken or will be questioned because it does not fall within the budget. I am presently locked in negotiation on an extremely serious case, the details of which I shall not go into on the Floor of the House, but it illustrates my hon. Friend's point. We are already seeing signs of an extremely worrying trend--decisions on medical care, for example, whether to operate, being made according to the budgetary position at any given time of a hospital or district unit. That fundamentally undermines and destroys the principle of a national health service.
Mr. Rowlands : I agree with my hon. Friend. We must be careful not to lose the fundamental principles attached to the national health service. That is a "back to basics" policy which we want to maintain.
May I direct my central remarks to the economic, industrial and employment position of communities such as the one that I represent ? Before the Minister puts on the same old record and says that we are trying to run down our communities by drawing attention to our present problems, may I say that I am excited by many of the infrastructural changes that are taking place in my community. Those include the largest land reclamation scheme ; a road programme ; urban investment ; and, I hope, an accelerated improvement in the A465. I do not regard Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney as threatened by the M4 corridor. It could be an M4 society in the sense that we can reach the M4 as well as the midlands and the north, by the road network. We can go east, west, north or south as a result of our road infrastructure, which I hope will be completed in the next few years. As a result of those infrastructural changes, we have the potential to remove our historic inhibitions to development. The questions of environment and roads communication are both being dealt with fundamentally, so I have no argument about that.
The fact that is now emerging is that infrastructure alone will not be enough. The work that I have been doing recently on the history of the 1930s to 1950s revealed that one of the lessons to learn is that, even if one has invested in infrastructure, it is not sufficient of itself. Sadly, the figures that are emerging have demonstrated that point all too forcefully.
I am frightened and shaken by the figures from censuses of employment and the official census of the past 18 months to two years. May I describe what they have meant for Merthyr borough ? In 1981, which was not a good year for us as it was the first recession, 20,800 people were in employment in Merthyr borough ; 13,100 of those were men, of which 400 were part time ; and 7,700 women were in employment, of which 3,200 were part time. The figures reveal that, one decade later, only 16,700 people were in employment, of which only 8,700 were men. That is in a borough of more than 60,000 inhabitants which was the centre of the first industrial revolution. The 16,700 comprises a 50 :50 ratio of men to women. Of those 16, 700-- including the 8,000 women--4,100 or half are part-time, poorly paid employees. That is the present-day 1991
Column 1150employment base of a borough and a constituency of the character of Merthyr Tydfil. It is not just frightening, it is wicked ; it really does require attention.
Our largest employers are public administration and health, which are the newest Government targets. In addition to the fact that our employment base has shrunk, the largest part of what remains is the target of the Government's major new attack and shake up. I did not come here to preach gloom and doom, but to present the problems and the issues. Irrespective of how it was caused and who caused it, let us examine the consequences of such a fundamental shift in the basis of our local economy and society.
The jobs in our community partly determine its character. They create the distinctive character of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. When a community loses jobs on the scale and of the character that we have lost jobs in the past decade, there are bound to be consequences which neither the Government nor any of us have wholly addressed. I shall tread on dangerous ground, so I choose my words carefully. I believe that one of the consequences is the enormous shift from full-time, predominantly male jobs to part-time, women's jobs within a community such as mine. In no way do I express what everybody believes to be a historic old male chauvinist attitude. I do not represent such an attitude, but I believe that tremendous consequences flow from shifts of such character in a short time. Everybody in the House-- certainly those who know our community well--will recognise the role that Mum played in the nature of the social fabric. The personal, familiar nature of society was part of the distinctive character of our community. Much of the internal family and community discipline arose not from men, but from women. It was mother, as much as anybody, who drove me to do my homework or insisted that members of the family took piano lessons and practised. A tremendous feature of the community and society was the role played by natural internal discipline.
If, as the figures show, the nature of society shifts and changes, consequences will follow. There is no way--and rightly so--that women in the 1990s will play the same role as they did in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. They do not want to do it for two reasons. First, it was not a liberating role in many respects ; and, secondly, they cannot do it because they as much as anybody are propping up the local economy in terms of jobs. Some 50 per cent. of jobs in communities such as ours are now employing women.
No one expects women in the 1990s to play the historic role that women played in our communities. However, we have to admit that that has happened and is happening. The decline in the number of jobs and the idea of work reduces the independence and dignity that comes from having a job and the shrinking of that potential which represented other sets of values.
The Secretary of State should not look for easy scapegoats and symptoms in single parents or anything
Column 1151else, but should instead try to address the deeper shifts in social attitudes in society. If I had an answer to that conundrum, I should be Prime Minister, or at least Secretary of State for Wales. I do not have an easy answer and I do not think that there is any single answer. Househusbandry has not yet caught on in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney or across the valleys--certainly not in any meaningful timescale.
We have to address the issues and find other ways to resolve the social consequences that flow from such a fundamental and fairly dramatic short- term change in many of our communities.
I have only two fundamental suggestions. First--I have been coming here for 25 years to argue this case and I shall continue to do so--jobs are at the centre of the solution. If we recreate jobs, we raise expectations. The prospect of the job has an amazing stabilising effect ; it creates all sorts of values.
The great difference between the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s was the decasualisation of work. The creation for the first time of reasonable expectations of employment created a more socially stable and independent society--more independent of Government than ever before.
In a curious way, Thatcherism has created greater dependency on Government in the 1990s in communities such as mine. I do not want to come to the House and talk about clawing back benefits, or about fighting for invalidity benefit or any other benefit. We have subsidies here and there, but if we create jobs we can do away with that dependency.
We become dependent on Government, but some Governments, when it suits them or when they have to, take away certain props from the communities. The current Social Security Bill is doing that now, with a rather dramatic and immediate effect on purchasing power in communities such as ours. We do not want the dependency that has been created by the destruction of jobs and the erosion of the jobs base in many of our communities.
I follow everything that the Secretary of State has said and done and I have become a connoisseur of his statements and speeches. I have noticed that he frequently says that we need more jobs. We shall do everything we can to help, but the right hon. Gentleman has to go away and get those jobs --and quickly. He was not here when I quoted the figures on the shrinking labour force in my community, but I hope that he will hear them from his right hon. Friend.
Secondly, the solution lies in training and education. At the eleventh hour the Government have been trying to rescue training from a deadly decade when, in the eyes of many people--especially the young--it represented nothing more than income support and bus fares. At last, we are beginning to reconsider the concept of modern apprenticeships and manufacturing. It is a good sign, but it is a very late conversion.
For too long, the Government have spent a great deal of money on substitutes for proper training to take more people from the dole queue-- what in the 1930s were called palliatives. We have had many palliatives until, late in the day, there has been a conversion. I think that there has been a conversion, but it has not yet been seen in the approach to education. On education policy, the right hon. Gentleman should cut the umbilical cord with Whitehall and the Department for Education. For 15 years, we have watched education policy be determined by a Government with a bilious, prejudiced and ideological
Column 1152view of what has happened in parts of inner London and other cities. It has had virtually no relevance to the educational arguments of Wales. Although the right hon. Gentleman has tried once or twice to defend corners, he failed rather sadly in defending us against most of the nonsense of their policy. Many of the same arguments and solutions have been peddled. Scotland might have survived this, but we have not.
There are two areas in which the umbilical cord should be cut. First, the Minister should stop arguing about grant-maintained schools. They have not caught on in our communities. We do not want to create a competitive education system. It does not make much sense. Most parents and children believe that there is one school to go to ; they want to make that school better. Parents do not want to set one school against another. Let us return to the principle. Now, with the idea of unitary authorities, there is an ideal opportunity to create a community education system based on unitary authorities, which the right hon. Gentleman will introduce in his Bill--with some changes, I hope. From that unitary authority basis, Ministers should build on the concept of community education. Schools should not compete with colleges, or with other schools. We are ending up with schools spending money to try to compete with each other--tool up here, tool up there--and not produce, particularly in technical education, one decent centre of excellence of character of which the right hon. Gentleman speaks so much. I have told him that he should abandon the rigid national curriculum and develop vocational education. Two years ago, I made a speech in the Welsh Grand Committee, pleading with the Government not to impose a rigid national curriculum and to go for technical vocational education from age 15, not 16 or 17, because sixth forms are no longer like the comprehensives of the past 25 or 30 years. As youngsters stay on in school longer, sixth forms are now trying to play multi-purpose roles.
An opportunity exists now to transform technical vocational education, as a distinctive alternative route, with an alternative qualification to GCSEs, of the sort that was such a feature of the training vocational system of the 1950s and 1960s, developed primarily by the great nationalised industries--the coal board, electricity, water and other major companies. That has collapsed in the past decade and we have had to look for alternatives. Among the suggestions could be the regeneration of communities such as mine. But given what has happened in the past decade in terms of numbers of jobs, and the shift in the nature of work in the community that I represent, we are at the eleventh hour. I hope that the Secretary of State will listen and heed the voice of our communities.