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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) : The debate has been interesting and I have enjoyed many of the contributions, particularly from the Opposition side of the House. It is my heartfelt and sincere view that we in Wales have consistently been marginalised by this Parliament for far too long. This is the annual Welsh debate, and Welsh Members of Parliament are supposed to debate matters of considerable importance to us and our constituents in this single debate. The Welsh Grand Committee sits from time to time as a forum of debate, but it has no teeth whatever
Column 1153and is normally a platform or an opportunity for the Secretary of State to make press releases detailing his latest largesse. It would be churlish of me not to say that I welcome the announcement today about the road structure in Wales. I welcome it unreservedly, but I respectfully remind the Secretary of State that I hope that the A470 could be accelerated--I am sorry to use that word--in as reasonable a manner as possible, because it is vitally important, especially in the light of the closure of Trawsfynydd which, in fairness, the Secretary of State mentioned.
I understand that the Secretary of State for Scotland recently introduced some plans to strengthen the role of the Scottish Grand Committee. He says that it should deal with exclusively Scottish legislation and various other pointers that would strengthen the Committee and make it more viable and, indeed, give it real purpose. Unfortunately, so far as I know, there are no plans in the Welsh Office for that to be done with the Welsh Grand Committee. I refer to what the right hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. David Hunt), the previous Secretary of State, said during the debate on the structure of government in Wales on 8 March 1993 in Cardiff :
"As Secretary of State, I make it clear that I regard this as a vital, continuing debate. I look forward to hearing Members of the Committee tell us how they would like the Committee's role and influence to be strengthened."
What was vital to the then Secretary of State is not even on the current incumbent's agenda. That is disappointing and frustrating. The so-called democratic deficit in Wales has already been mentioned, and it really is a deficit. Indeed, I would go further than that and say that it is a huge abyss. If the present structures are to retain even a veneer of respect and credibility, Welsh Members' powers of scrutiny need to be overhauled by revamping the Committee or even transferring its role and incorporating it into the all-Wales forum.
We have heard much about the way in which the all-Wales forum has been set up. I shall not go into its history, but for the first time ever in the history of Wales an all-Wales body would meet on Welsh soil to discuss Welsh government issues, and representatives of all the tiers of government in Wales would meet in one chamber to discuss and debate. It will have representatives of local government, county and district, Members of the European Parliament, Members of this House and members of the Committee of the Regions. I sincerely believe that it will be a true and real opportunity which all democrats should grasp immediately.
Mr. Ron Davies : May I put one problem to the hon. Gentleman ? I have followed with interest the case that he is developing, but he will know that it is the view of many Opposition Members that the Welsh Grand Committee should be empowered to take legislation through the House which specifically affects Wales. I ask him to cast his mind back to this time last year when he joined us in the Lobby opposing the repeal of Standing Order No. 86 because we wanted the Welsh Language Bill, for example, to be taken in the Welsh Grand Committee. If what he is proposing comes about and the Welsh Grand Committee is subsumed into a local government structure, surely we will lose not only that opportunity, but others in which to scrutinise in this place the working of the Welsh Office.
Mr. Llwyd : I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I did say "either/or". I said that the first premise was to strengthen the Welsh Grand Committee in terms of what has been proposed in Scotland, which in effect would give the Welsh Grand Committee an opportunity to deal with exclusively Welsh legislation. I then went on to develop the theme of a possibility of the forum becoming involved. It is an alternative, but I take on board what the hon. Gentleman says and I understand the point that he makes. I have to say genuinely and sincerely, however, that the Labour party's stance on this is mistaken.
It is clear that the Committee of the Regions will deal with regional, structural issues--transport links, broad structural funding and larger issues. Such issues are beyond the everyday competence--if I may use the word again--of local councils, even before the new Bill slashes them further, denuding them of their powers and obligations. I plead with Opposition Members to reconsider the position. I do not think that history will record who initiated action, or how it was initiated ; what it should record, in due course, is the establishment of a forum representing the opinions of all tiers of Welsh representation. We should grasp this opportunity. I am sure that the shadow Secretary of State--the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies)--is in favour of a powerful Welsh assembly ; he is entirely sincere in that regard. The forum, however, would give us a form of assembly pro tem, although it would be a poor substitute for the proper Parliament with full legislative and tax-raising powers that my party wants.
Mr. Alan W. Williams : I accept that the hon. Gentleman sees the forum as an interim measure, but he has questioned the competence of those involved in local government. Does he envisage interference by Members of Parliament in the relationship between the Committee of the Regions and the Welsh assembly, when it is eventually established ?
Mr. Llwyd : I know that the hon. Gentleman has a PhD. I am not sure what kind of PhD he has, but it is certainly not in linguistics. Let me make one point clear for the third and, I hope, final time. I have no pencil with me, but I will try to spell out what I mean by "beyond the competence of local government". I am trying to say that councillors do not deal with regional policy ; they do not deal with Interreg funds, objective 3 and 2B5 status, and so on. The point is that the Committee of the Regions will deal with such matters.
Mr. Alan W. Williams : My question was this : does the hon. Gentleman envisage Members of Parliament being involved in the Welsh assembly's relationship with the Committee of the Regions, when we have such an assembly ?
Mr. Llwyd : As far as I am concerned, the Welsh assembly is just a milestone on the road. I want a full Welsh Parliament, and I have not even given the assembly much thought. I understand that the Labour party is in favour of an assembly without tax-raising or legislative powers. I wonder what it will do to keep anyone there, let alone Members of Parliament. Clearly, however, the assembly would be a step in the right direction, and provide an opportunity to scrutinise the disgraceful position that
Column 1155now exists in Wales, where all these quasi- autonomous non-governmental bodies are ripping us off day after day. I seem to have got away with using a certain phrase ; it did not work this afternoon.
On a more serious note, the forum and/or strengthened Welsh Grand Committee would be a poor substitute for a Welsh Parliament. I believe that the denial of the democratic right of the people of Wales to self-determination is holding the nation back. That affects all of us, day after day. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who speaks about his area with great authority, stressed our current very worrying employment position. There is long-term unemployment, and young people have not a hope in hell of finding jobs owing to the underfunding of various courses. Even if they are given places on such courses, what are they to do next ? That is just one of the serious problems that exist not just in Merthyr, but throughout Wales.
I am afraid that we have a Secretary of State who is not interested in Wales : that is the real problem. I was interested by a press release issued in the last fortnight by a Conservative hopeful in connection with the forthcoming Euro-elections, headed
"John Redwood speaks to packed lunch at Haverfordwest". I believe that the words "and the lettuce curled" appeared in brackets, although I am not sure whether that is entirely true. Can it be that, at last, the Secretary of State has found a captive audience in Wales ? Or is the job getting the better of him ? I am not sure which it is, but no doubt time will tell.
I mentioned earlier that the people of Wales were suffering as a direct result of Westminster misrule. Nowhere is that more evident than in the crisis currently facing our police forces. They are highly trained and motivated, but they cannot beat the crime wave without the resources that they need. My area--the North Wales police area--has an excellent force, but for years that force has been seriously undermanned. For years it has applied to the Home Secretary for an increse in its staff complement. It is currently undermanned by 70 officers, and has been for more than five years. The Home Office, however, refused point blank to sanction the employment of one new officer. What kind of Government do that ? What message does that send to the public in an area of north Wales where crime is soaring ?
The message is clear : the Home Office has other priorities and interests. The interests of Wales are--to put it
succinctly--peripheral. The situation is critical in south Wales : police stations are being shut and police cars left in garages because they are damaged and there is no money to repair them or even, in some cases, to put petrol in them. I do not think that the Home Office has offered any help, and I think that it is unlikely to do so. The best that it can do is to blame local government--in accordance with the Government's hidden agenda, which will be evidenced in the Welsh local government reorganisation Bill. I believe that the Welsh public are now concluding that the only way out of the conundrum is to campaign for a Welsh Parliament. Would such a Parliament starve that most basic and necessary service, the police, of the funds and resources that it requires ? I do not think so. I believe that, for the time being, responsibility for Welsh policing should devolve to the Welsh Office ; otherwise we shall continue to stand at the end of the Home Office queue with our empty begging bowl. The Government have a serious responsibility which, unfortunately, they are shirking. The
Column 1156blame for inadequate policing in Wales lies wholly and directly with the Home Office. That is unnacceptable and I believe that the people of Wales will signal their disapproval and frustration at the next available opportunity--the local and European elections in June. The Conservatives' standing in Wales has never been lower, which is entirely understandable. We in Wales have great respect for law and order, but it is disgraceful that large parts of Wales must be policed by neighbourhood watch schemes. Welcome though such schemes are, they would not be necessary if the service was adequately funded. Our communities are in crisis : housing waiting lists are unacceptably high, and ever rising. I ask again : would a Welsh Parliament assign to housing such a low priority as is assigned by the Government ? I do not think so.
I am appalled to think of the number of people on housing waiting lists in Wales. Some are on those lists for years on end, denied the basic requirement of life--a roof over their heads. What kind of Government sanction such an anti-social policy ?
Mr. Llwyd : Quite so. Why should people be sleeping rough on the streets of Cardiff and Swansea ? The answer is clear : a Welsh Parliament would not allow it. We have a better set of principles. I do not want to go "back to basics", or we shall become embroiled in a laughing match, but I think that we think more about our people and have more respect for our fellow men than is evinced by the Government.
What of those other obvious facets of a community in
crisis--unemployment and lack of youth training ? I shall not dwell over- long on that subject because the problem was eloquently described by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. Every civilised society must aim for full employment, although perhaps it is unattainable. That should be the aim of any civilised society because chronic unemployment brings with it a plethora of social problems. Among the most serious are high anxiety levels and sickness, low morale, low self-esteem and, unfortunately, crime. Although I do not subscribe to the view that unemployment per se is directly responsible for crime, it would nevertheless be idle to ignore the fact that it is a major constituent in the formula.
What advice does one give a young person who has been unemployed for five years or, as is often the case in many areas in my constituency, even seven or eight years, ever since leaving school ? What incentives are there for him or her ? In the absence of training schemes, that is worrying, but even when there are training schemes in areas such as my constituency, young people feel that it is almost a waste of time to go on them because they will not lead to employment.
Steeped as we are, in Wales, in the work ethic, historically and traditionally, I cannot believe that a Welsh Parliament would attach such minimal priority to employment and training. The answer for the people of Wales is obvious once again. I was speaking with a Trades Union Congress official last night who argued that, unless the Government wake up to the fact, in 10 years we shall be left way behind virtually the whole of the developed world, simply because nothing is being spent, in real terms, on employment and training. It is all very well bowing our heads and saying, "We are spending such and such". We
Column 1157are not spending anything like the amount that we should be spending. Everyone who has ever considered the situation realises that. We shall end up in 20 years' time with an undisciplined society and in a situation in which we are virtually competing with third- world countries, directly because of the unenlightened stance of the Government.
Agriculture is still a major source of employment in Wales. The traditional Welsh hill farm has both kept the fabric of rural society together and proven to be a guardian of the Welsh hills and the precious environment, but the Government have set their face against the agriculture industry. I see the Secretary of State grimacing. He may be grimacing even more in a minute.
Mr. Redwood indicated dissent .
Mr. Llwyd : If evidence were required, we need only consider three or four recent moves by the Government. The cuts in the hill livestock compensatory allowances will affect upland families very badly. I acknowledge that there has been an improvement in farm incomes during the past 12 months, but we must consider that improvement in the correct perspective.
First, the improvement came about due to some market changes and, which is more likely, as a result of the green pound devaluation. Secondly--this is vital--the improvement came after eight or 10 years of regularly decreasing income, so the improvement is from a very low base. Therefore, let us not delude ourselves by saying that the cuts will not hurt. In the next 12 months, the full force of the cuts will be felt. Many farmers used their HLCA payments to pay for wintering their sheep. HLCA payments exist to assist them because it is a difficult region in which to "produce the goods". However, the cost of wintering increases regularly and the HLCA has now suffered two savage cuts. Inevitably, there will be a great deal of hardship in the next 12 months and it will badly hit some areas such as my constituency of Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, where one family in five relies directly or indirectly on agriculture.
What the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) said is all very well, but I note in passing that not one Conservative Back Bencher is in his place. That shows the real priority--
[Interruption.] Not one Conservative Back Bencher from Wales is in his place ; yet this is the annual Welsh debate.
Mr. Llwyd : The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) is right ; there is one Member representing a Welsh seat, but I know that he has a great deal of gravitas and I am sure that he is there to look after their interests.
Sir Wyn Roberts rose
Mr. Llwyd : Yes. My mathematics are not very good--he is only a sixth. Despite the obvious gravitas, he is only a sixth of his Welsh party. Anyway, I shall not get embroiled in this or I shall be mimicking, dare I say it, the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards).
The farm conservation grants scheme was recently cut. That cut will bite hard and it is very damaging to the average farmer. I must question the bona fides of the Government. If they dictate to farmers that they must handle the environment carefully, put funds in place to enable them to do so, and then chop off that funding, it is a serious and retrograde step and will be financially damaging to Welsh farmers.
The Government have also given in to strong lobbying by the landed classes for a reform of tenancy law. The reform is overwhelmingly opposed by Welsh farmers, who regard it as damaging in the extreme, but because English farmers are happy with it farmers in Wales have to toe the line. What better example of misrule could there be ? Cereal growers in Wales also suffer from discrimination. They are paid substantially less for producing exactly the same amount of grain as growers elsewhere, which is patently unfair. The message to Welsh farmers is absolutely clear : the Government do not want anything to do with them. They want the farmers to be guardians of the rural areas, but they will not pay them for it. Welsh farmers are low on the Government's agenda : the Government have worked out that they can do without them. I urge Welsh farmers to accept that a Welsh Parliament must be the answer because without a properly funded agricultural industry, and without taking account of the changes in guardianship mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), the fabric of rural Wales will crumble and the culture and language which are so precious to us all will disappear. That is a signal danger that we must bear in mind.
During the passage of the Welsh Language Act 1993, I realised how undemocratic and how unrepresentative of Welsh opinion Westminster is. There was a weight of informed opinion in favour of a clear statement in the Act on the status of the language. Against that opinion, and with the assistance of Conservative Members who knew nothing about the issue, every amendment was defeated. That is yet another example of Westminster rule adversely affecting the interests of the people of Wales.
In case further examples are needed, I cite the question which I tabled last week and which was answered on 1 March. It read : "To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will recommend that St. David's day be designated a bank holiday and a national holiday in Wales ; and if he will make a statement."
The Secretary of State's answer was :
"No."--[ Official Report , 1 March 1994 ; Vol. 238, c. 651 .] I am not concerned about whether that response was an insult to me--I am sufficiently thick skinned to take an insult from the Secretary of State-- but I do not think that the people of Wales are happy about it. They are not comfortable with a person who just says no without going into any further detail. That is not the type of government that Wales wants ; nor is it the type of representation that we want. The Secretary of State will no doubt realise that
Column 1159fact one day, if it is not too late already. I do not know whether he thinks it is funny, but I do not find it funny and one of these days the people of Wales will ensure that he realises that it is not funny.
Of course, this is the Secretary of State who wanted to turn back the clock and ruin the good work carried out by Welsh bodies on mainland Europe. He wants to remove Welsh dragons from Welsh Development Agency literature, or rather confuse the issue by including a Union Jack, too. When we have at last got the people of mainland Europe to recognise "Wales in Europe" as a selling point which is readily understood, he wishes to confuse the issue by bringing in the Union Jack which is unrepresentative of Wales because Wales does not feature in it.
Is there any truth in the report in The Herald that the Secretary of State is considering closing the Welsh centre in Brussels ? I understand that he said today that he did not intend to do so, but I should be pleased if at some point he could undertake to continue to support that vital centre.
Mr. Redwood : I have no plans to close the centre. That is just another of the silly rumours put about by Opposition Members. The hon. Gentleman's previous point was also inaccurate. I have passed comments on literature that we send to potential Japanese investors who do not know Wales well. He is confusing that with "Wales in Europe", which is entirely different, as he well knows.
Mr. Llwyd : I will not argue the point. I know that time is short. Is it just a coincidence that the same Secretary of State for Wales has seen the changes to the national curriculum which will undoubtedly slow down the process of bringing bilingualism to our young people in the schools ? It may be just a coincidence : I do not know, but I tend to think that his heart is not in the job, that he is really here just on his way up the greasy pole and that he has no real respect for Wales. He certainly never stays there. He has stayed there one evening, I believe, since his appointment, or perhaps two. The Secretary of State shakes his head. Maybe he will tell us in due course.
It was said earlier that because of the vote in 1979 which went against devolution that is the end of the story. Hon. Members are expected to vote on hanging at every opportunity. We are supposed to vote as often as possible--vote early, vote often--on that issue, but on this vital subject of extreme importance to the people of Wales we are not to have a referendum because in 1979 the country decided against it.
A former Prime Minister, Lord Wilson, said that a week was a long time in politics. Fifteen years of Tory misrule is a very long time in politics. That fact alone has led the people of Wales to the inevitable conclusion that they have had enough. Bearing in mind that 72 per cent. of the electorate of Wales voted for parties which had in their manifesto some form of devolution--be it a Parliament, as we want, or an assembly--if we had a referendum tomorrow the answer would be an overwhelming and resounding yes. I want to be awake to greet that day when it eventually comes, because the misrule of this place and the way in which we have been treated is an insult to the people of Wales.
Column 11609.11 pm
I want to comment on what the Secretary of State said about roads in Wales. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) referred to the Secretary of State's attendance at a private function in Haverfordwest on Monday, after which the Western Telegraph , the local weekly there, ran a headline this Wednesday about the major announcement to be made on roads in west Wales by the Secretary of State. I was, therefore, extremely disappointed by the statement about roads that he actually made because, it appeared to me, all he said was that the "Roads in Wales" supplement 1993 was to stand in relation to those roads. When he publishes the new 1994 supplement, I hope that work on the Robeston Wathen bypass, in particular, will be brought forward and that the Red Roses to Llandowror section will be included in the road programme. The Secretary of State nods. I am not as disppointed now as I was when he first spoke some four hours ago. The other issue to do with roads that is worth addressing, particularly as the Minister of State is sitting next to the Secretary of State, is the Cleddau bridge. It is a very important road in west Wales. The Minister of State has received a delegation about it. I hope that he will find a few moments in which to comment on trunking the Cleddau bridge, on possibly significantly reducing the tolls and in removing the massive debt burden with which the new Pembrokeshire authority, following local government reorganisation in Wales, will find itself saddled.
The final point that I want to make before I move to the main part of my contribution is perhaps the most serious. Today, I learnt from the office of Bruce Millan something about the Interreg II proposals, about which I, in company with a delegation from west Wales, recently spoke to the Minister of State. I was informed only this afternoon that those proposals, which exclude Dyfed but include Gwynedd, now also exclude south-east Ireland, which had previously been included. As the Minister of State will be aware, the fact that south-east Ireland has now been officially removed from the formal document makes the situation serious.
Previously, we had an illogical situation. On one side of the Irish sea, Rosslare, in south-east Ireland, was included for Interreg funding, whereas on the other side south-west Wales, Dyfed, was excluded. We thought that an omission had occurred because that pattern was paradoxical and illogical. Unfortunately, we understand that the Commission has now altered its submission and removed south-west Ireland, too. As the Minister of State will appreciate, that makes our case far more difficult to argue.
I shall rattle quickly through the rest of my speech because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East wishes to speak. In south-west Wales, as throughout Wales, we have more than a crisis of unemployment. In my constituency, rather than our seeing the end of the recession and the beginning of the recovery, unemployment is worse than it was a year ago. In the Pembroke constituency, unemployment was higher in January 1994 than in January 1993. There has been no recovery at all in west Wales.
Column 1161The issue is not only unemployment, bad though that is. One of the consequences of unemployment is low pay. I have contacted my local jobcentres over the past couple of days, and I can tell the Secretary of State what people are expected to live on in west Wales. In the Milford Haven jobcentre, a vacancy for a butcher is advertised at £2 an hour and vacancies for a full-time cook and for a care assistant in a private nursing home at £3 an hour.
Milford Haven jobcentre has 50 vacancies on its books. That means that it has one vacancy for every 30 unemployed people registered there. In Pembroke Dock, on the other side of the Cleddau bridge, a security guard's job is advertised at £2.70 an hour, a job for a bus driver, with all the responsibility that that involves, at £3.22 an hour and one for an experienced chef at £3 an hour. Goodness knows what pay an inexperienced chef would command.
In the south Pembrokeshire travel-to-work area we have the highest unemployment rate in Wales--more than 22 per cent. That means a crisis not only of unemployment but of low pay. The impact that that has on families is best illustrated by a case which I came across that I referred to the Secretary of State for Social Services. Mr. Stephen Rees, after a period of unemployment as a building contractor, got himself on a course and finally found a job. Before that, he was drawing benefits, and benefits in kind such as free school meals, totalling £179.90 a week.
When he started the job, he lost his income support and free school meals but gained his wages and family credit, and kept his child benefit. The new total was £161 a week--but the family still had to pay £9.50 a week for two children's school meals. In the end, after finding a job after following a course of education, Mr. Rees was £35.80 a week worse off. What sort of society are we when people who have followed a course and obtained work find that, because the work is so low paid, and family credit makes up only part of the difference between their income and what is called a living wage for a family, they are worse off?
I wish to draw the attention of the Minister of State yet again to the crisis in our discretionary awards system, and I hope that he will touch on that subject. Whether one receives a discretionary award in Wales is a lottery. The system is based on where a person lives and his or her age. Many local education authorities are forced to limit discretionary awards to those aged between 15 and 25. A 26-year-old in Powys or Dyfed on a further education course does not receive help. Some people in Mid Glamorgan do not receive help with fees. Some people go on a further education college course after being made redundant or because they want to be retrained. Goodness knows how they live. Where are we going if it is better for people to stay on income support or unemployment benefit than to go on a further education college course, during which they cannot support their families or themselves?
Something has to be done. I know what the Minister will say, "Well, we have given this discretion to the local authorities." But the Government have also significantly reduced local authorities' resources. As it is a discretion, sadly, after 15 years of Tory rule, authorities have started to chip away at the resources. When local authorities had the resources, they resourced further education places well. Now they have to make significant cuts. We should
Column 1162encourage people to come off income support and unemployment benefit and enter further education colleges to acquire the right technical skills.
Unless we tackle those basic issues and are willing to make resources available to create a highly motivated and skilled work force, we shall continue to be at the bottom of the pay league, not only in Britain but in Europe. Ultimately, we will be competing against the Pacific rim countries. That is not good enough for the people of Wales.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : This has been a good debate, with the exception of the disgraceful speech of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards). For me, the high spot of the debate was the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who described graphically, and with an intensity of feeling and knowledge, the crisis in his community. I hope that the Secretary of State will read that speech with great care.
This is our annual Welsh day debate, and there is a certain symbolism in the fact that, while it is usually held on St. David's day, it is being held on 3 March. What arrogance that shows. It is as if the Government were announcing that, as a result of the diktat of the Secretary of State, Christmas day was to be held on 27 December. The problem involving disabled facilities grants in Wales should be brought graphically to the attention of the Minister. I shall give him one example and I shall not elaborate on it. In April of last year, a constituent of mine applied for the disabled facilities grant because of the crisis in her personal health. I am told by the city council that
"Unfortunately the Council's allocation for discretionary grants (which includes mandatory Disabled Facilities Grants) is fully committed for the current year and the number of applications already in the system will take up the whole of the sum allocated for 1994-95. What is more alarming is that it seems unlikely that all the outstanding applications will be approved in 1994-95 with the consequence being that some will be waiting until 1995-96 before they can be considered for approval.
This means that for someone in"
"position, they are unlikely to receive an inspection for some considerable time--probably not until the latter half of 1995--and the speed with which an approval can be issued will be dependent upon the capital allocation for Disabled Facilities Grants in 1995-96." So much for the preparation for care in the community, a principle that we all support.
The general point that I shall make briefly is that, on St. David's day, what is the idea of Wales that we wish to promote? Do we believe in the value of a Welsh identity and, if so, what, if anything, are we prepared to do to encourage it? I ask not for any exclusive identity, as there are other identities, but for something of value in itself which gives roots, meaning and value to life. We should be concerned that some all-Wales institutions are now under threat. For example, British Gas Wales is scrapping its Welsh region and is likely to close its headquarters. Does it matter? It says that the service to the consumer will be the same, as if that sentence in some way justifies the removal of an institution which, with its predecessor, has been in Wales for a long time. It is not an answer to say that.
We know of the crisis in the Welsh national opera. As a result of underfunding, we have had not only the recent resignation of the general manager but, in my city of Swansea, the reduction by Welsh national opera of half of
Column 1163its number of appearances. It may not matter, but I believe that it does and it is of some significance. Other institutions are being marginalised and reduced. The Government may say that we shall have the Committee of the Regions, but such a Committee was grudgingly accepted by the Government and Wales is not being given a constitutional focus. It is not a separatist argument. I hope that my contribution during the 1970s suggests that I am not someone likely to be swayed by separatist arguments.
I see the value of a Welsh identity and think that it is wrong in community terms that there is such an erosion of that identity. The Government talk of the linking of Wales with motor regions. It is absolutely clear that Europe is going for greater regional identities and that each of the motor regions with which we liaise has its own institutional focus and its own elected and administrative unit. We in Wales do not and I believe that that is wrong.
We must return to the position of the Secretary of State for Wales. I see many great virtues in the Secretary of State. As a person, he has political courage, but he represents Wokingham. He is from outside the folk and outside the culture. Imagine what would happen in Scotland if the Secretary of State for Scotland were to come from Wokingham. Why is Wales so quiet when that insult has been delivered to us? The Secretary of State has his own constituency with its own ideas, which he is pursuing and which puts him, effectively, as part of an English nationalist party. For example, when he tried to prevent the use of the symbol of Wales in Brussels, was his argument against Wales or against Europe? Why cannot Wales project its proper national identity internationally in that way?
It is quite wrong that the Government are acting in a way that dilutes, reduces and removes our Welsh identity. There is a Welsh identity, which is seeking to define itself. The debate on that is under way in Wales today and the Secretary of State and his party have largely opted out of it. That is why the Conservatives are an irrelevance in Wales. The more negative they are, the more that they will promote that which they seek to undermine.
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West) : I shall take up where my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) left off. This debate does not have one topic, but is a review--an annual debate during which we can paint a picture of the Wales that we see. The Secretary of State has done his best--he perceives a land of milk and honey. I am pleased to see him back in his seat after his visit elsewhere--probably to Wokingham--so that he can hear more contributions from Opposition Members, which will show him why Wales has, strangely, become more united as it has become more divided from him and from the Tory party.
The Secretary of State has accused Labour Members of not having constructive ideas or offering an alternative vision, but we have just heard one from my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East, and I shall do my best.
The Secretary of State also accused those on the Labour Front Bench of being Trappists. I have been accused of many things, but never of being a Trappist. I tried hard to join that order as a young man, but I failed the oral examination !
My hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith)
Column 1164and for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) painted a picture of the devastating changes taking place in Wales--fundamental changes, for example, to our concepts of the family, of society and of the breadwinner, of council houses and a steady job. People of our age group had been brought up to expect such things, but those fundamentals have been withdrawn and our dreams and expectations have not been replaced by anything else. That is an extremely worrying development, as it is difficult to recreate a society.
The Secretary of State said that he would reintroduce engineering apprenticeships, which were very much a part of people's expectations. People thought that the existence of such apprenticeships would create a sort of working-class aristocracy. Many entrepreneurs followed that route ; they did an engineering apprenticeship, attended the local technical college, knew that they were pretty good at their jobs, and, after working for five or perhaps 10 years, started their own businesses.
It is pretty rich for the Government to try to present engineering apprenticeships as a great development, instead of apologising to the people of Wales for destroying them 12 or 13 years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney witnessed the decline and painted a devastating picture. Firms such as Hoover, Teddington Aircraft Controls and Thorn used to supply engineering apprenticeships in numbers a hundred times greater than the number today.
It is a devastating U-turn for the Government to say today that they have decided that what they did for the past 12 years was a bad idea, and that they want to bring back one of those fundamentals. We are pleased to see any conversion on their part, but I hope that they will not expect us to congratulate them.
We recognise the damage that was done to Welsh and to British society at a time when other European countries, such as Germany and France, did not abandon engineering apprenticeships for 14-year-olds, but merely tried to extend them so that more girls were taken on. Apprenticeships for girls were always a problem for my generation and people who are slightly younger, such as the shadow Secretary of State for Wales.
The Secretary of State also made a major announcement about roads. He tried to claim that he was proposing a new strategic direction for roads. The missing elements of his speech were as important, however, as the content. He stated that he would concentrate on the three east-west routes, and said little about north-south routes. The latter are not as important, but they cannot be ignored.
We want some progress reports on the A470, and we want to know whether priority is being removed from the A483.
As has been said, Clwyd is an extremely important industrial powerhouse in north-east Wales. The connection to Wrexham, Mold and the other important industrial areas around Deeside from industrial south Wales is enormously important. The Department of Transport in England and the roads division of the Welsh Office have put in excellent new routes south from Wrexham through the Ruabon bypass to the Chirk bypass, from Shropshire in England with the Oswestry bypass, and the Welshpool bypass.