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3.4 pm

Sir Raymond Powell (Ogmore): I want to put it on record that in the election of the Secretary of State for Wales last Saturday, the Labour party conducted itself fairly, and both candidates should be congratulated on their conduct during the whole campaign. It was an historic election because the winner will be the principal person in Wales with great responsibilities.

I worked with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when we were in the Whips Office and when he was a shadow Welsh Minister. I know from personal experience that he has great talent and ability and that he is definitely a workaholic. When he came into the Whips Office he always had a bundle of papers under his arm. I have seen many hon. Members with such bundles and I always wondered whether they were for show or whether they actually read the documents, so I brought a bundle of papers to the Chamber today to try to impress people that I, too, read.

This week, hon. Members from all parties who represent Wales have had the gigantic task of reading documents and attending Committee sittings to consider statutory instruments dealing with the disqualification of Members. That needs to be carefully considered because Lords will be allowed to stand for election in Wales, even though they cannot stand for election to this place. Members leave this place to go to the other place and now we are affording Lords the opportunity to stand for election to the Welsh Assembly.

Mr. Evans: I find the hon. Gentleman's point inconsistent, and it is the second time that he has argued it this week. Why should Members of the House of Commons be able to stand for election to the Welsh Assembly and retain their seats here, while he would deny that chance to Members of the House of Lords?

Sir Raymond Powell: To be frank, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman because of the responsibilities that will be involved. Only yesterday, when we were discussing in Committee the functions that we shall hand over to the Assembly, it was pointed out that Members of Parliament will have enough work to do here without going to the Assembly.

Mr. Llwyd: One of the main criticisms of the other place is that it is undemocratic because its Members do not stand for election. Surely it is welcome that they will now be able to put their head above the parapet and stand for election somewhere else.

Sir Raymond Powell: Yes, but they will be standing for election to a Welsh Assembly, and the number of Lords left without a seat when we disqualify them within the next couple of months will mean that hundreds of Lords might go to Wales, looking for seats in the 60-seat Assembly. That is my great objection.

I have another objection. Roaming around Wales, we hear whispers from many members of all parties, and I have been given to understand that a prominent Welsh

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nationalist who is a Member of the House of Lords has already been promised a place as the president of the Assembly--the Presiding Officer. I do not know by whom because no one has been elected in Wales yet. If that is true, a Lord will not only be elected to the Assembly, but will be the Presiding Officer of an Assembly controlled, in all probability, by the Labour party. There would be something wrong if we allowed that to happen. I hope that people are listening to the party in Wales and to the debate today and have realised that we should not tolerate such a situation in Wales.

Mr. Llwyd: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for generously giving way a second time. He may correct me if I am wrong, but I understood from the Standing Orders for the Welsh Assembly that the Speaker or the Presiding Officer--whatever that person is called--must come from the majority opposition party. If that is the case, what is the hon. Gentleman's worry?

Sir Raymond Powell: Let us wait and see what happens. I would not want the Welsh Assembly to have a Presiding Officer who did not enjoy the support of all Members. I would not want that for the Welsh Assembly or for Parliament.

I am speaking of my concerns on Welsh day, and I suppose that you would share some of them, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if we were speaking of Scotland. When we debated the Government of Wales Bill and also the Scotland Bill, I noticed that one hon. Member sat in the Chamber on his cushion through all the debates, taking note of every word that was uttered by every hon. Member. He wrote an article recently about what will be left for Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament to debate. That is a question that we should consider.

My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) sat on the Committee yesterday that dealt with 506 pages of concessions, options and responsibilities that are to be given to the Welsh Assembly. Other hon. Members and I sat on another Committee on Tuesday which made representation of the people in Wales different from the election of parliamentary candidates.

That brings me to an important matter that affects my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). The document that we debated on Tuesday dealt, among other things, with polling stations. We accepted the proposal that all constituency polling stations that were used during parliamentary elections should be used for the election of Welsh Assembly Members and councillors.

In the Bridgend county borough council area, a number of polling stations are to be closed to save the funding that would be necessary to keep them open. I protested on Tuesday and received an assurance from the Secretary of State that he would take up the matter. I understand that in today's press the closure of the polling stations is announced.

The existing six polling stations in the area are to be reduced to one. That will cause considerable difficulty for many of our electors in an area such as Nantymoel in the Ogmore valley, which is very hilly. The majority of people living there are elderly and cannot climb the hills. It is time that we understood that polling stations--such as the ones in which we were elected to Parliament--are

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usually sited near homes in order to get the electorate interested enough to vote. That will be even more crucial on 5 May--

Mr. Win Griffiths: On 6 May.

Sir Raymond Powell: I am glad that my hon. Friend corrected me--I would not want voters to turn up on the wrong day. In the elections on 6 May, people will be voting not only for Members of the Welsh Assembly--that will be an historic election throughout Wales--but for local councillors. However, councillors have decided to reduce the number of polling stations. Perhaps they do not want people to vote for them, but I am sure that candidates for the Welsh Assembly, who have worked hard to be selected, would expect all the polling stations to be open.

A few weeks later, some time in June--I do not remember the exact date--there will be European elections and community council elections. The Ogmore constituency has within it 22 community councils, each with a mayor and councillors, so those elections are important to the local community. That is why the council should take the decision to allow all the polling stations to remain open.

Another domestic issue that is causing concern in my constituency is the campaign that has been waged for years for the reopening of a station at Llanharan. That would serve the population of Bryna, Llanharan, Llanharry and an extensive surrounding area. The weight of public opinion and the thousands of signatures in support of the campaign that have been sent to British Rail, and which I shall pass on to the Secretary of State, should persuade him to support the moves to have the station reopened.

I do not want to take up too much time and prevent my hon. Friends from speaking in the debate. When I listened to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales speaking today, I realised that there is compassion in him. That was evident when he became justifiably annoyed by the remarks of the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). My right hon. Friend spoke about the suffering of the families of people--male and female members of society--who are unemployed, and the problems that they face when they lose their jobs. I recall the difficulties that we have experienced in the Ogmore constituency since 1979. For instance, all our mines were closed when the Thatcher Government started closing all the mines and demanning the steel industry. Ten thousand workers were deprived of their jobs at the Margam steel works, and 8,000 miners lost their jobs. In the Ogmore constituency alone, 20,000 people were made unemployed in four years. Such people could not secure new jobs even in 10 years; but we endured 18 years of Tory government. We have suffered ever since, and we have not yet recovered.

Is it any wonder that people such as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and other Labour Members, are now eager to implement the policies that they promised the electorate that they would implement? I do not want to go into the details of what we have achieved during the time--nearly two years--during which Labour has been in government, because my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) has already done so. I listened carefully to his speech, to that of my right hon.

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Friend the Secretary of State and to other speeches that have been made today, all of which referred to what we have already achieved.

Not enough has been achieved, however, and not enough will have been achieved until everyone has a job and my constituents have no problems in obtaining jobs. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should consider renewing schemes that were introduced years ago, before the invention of training and enterprise councils. TECs seem to restrict what we can do to encourage new employment.

In Ogmore and Bridgend we had a take-up scheme, which worked differently from TECs. It was a wide and varied scheme, creating 650 training places for adults and 250 places for young people. After two years in training, 95 per cent. of young people were given jobs. Why? Because of the diversity of jobs provided by the scheme. It was described as a community enterprise scheme, and it is time that the Government readopted it. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will consider that. The scheme was well known in Wales and well known to the Government, and at the time it proved so successful that the Government decided that they must change it. As a result, Ogmore lost 650 adult places and 250 places for young people.

Even at this late stage, we should reconsider implementing the Government of Wales Act 1998. We have gone through the procedures determining whom we should disbar, and other procedures determining what functions are to be devolved. Most hon. Members will remember the local government reorganisation that took place in 1974, as a result of which representatives were elected as shadow representatives for 12 months. Five local authorities in Bridgend were merged into one, Ogwr borough council, and it was essential for their councillors to be in at least a shadow position for 12 months.

During the last few years, we have experienced a different kind of local government reorganisation, and unitary authorities have been established. The same has applied: councillors have been in a shadow position for 12 months. How on earth can we expect Assembly Members to take over all the responsibilities that the Government of Wales Act confers on them, and to implement those responsibilities overnight? The election is on 6 May and they have until June to start working legally as an Assembly. That is unfair and unjust.


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