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Mr. Win Griffiths: All the hon. Gentleman has said so far is purely speculative--it is right out of the Brothers Grimm. By quoting The Sun, he merely strengthens the view that he is producing one long fairy tale for Wales.

Mr. Swayne: I am surprised to hear The Sun treated with contempt by Labour Members, who have placed such faith in its strictures in the past. However, that advance from them is welcome. It is wise to speculate on these matters. There is that branch of Christian ethics which takes literally the Lord's command to consider only the troubles that are sufficient for each day, but it behoves us, as politicians, to consider the consequences of the policies announced this week.

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The challenges posed by the state of the economy in Wales must be set against the expectations created by Labour during the general election campaign and the pledges that Labour made on a series of problems. On transport, it was expected that there would be a significant improvement in Wales. We must set the White Paper, "Driving Wales Forward" against the reality.

Yesterday, as I came to the House, a bus from Pontypridd was unloading lobbyists on behalf of British truckers, who were complaining about the fact that, in Wales, filling a 220-gallon heavy goods vehicle tank costs £200 more than on the continent of Europe. That disadvantage must be set against the high-sounding phrases from "Driving Wales Forward" which, in some respects, might drive Wales to a standstill.

I wish to refer to the A5; a road with which, as a former schoolmaster in north Shropshire, I am familiar. As a consequence of the White Paper, we have seen the abandonment of the Bethesda bypass, the Corwen bypass, Halfway bridge and Pont Padog.

Mr. Llwyd: I know that the hon. Gentleman is no expert on Welsh affairs, but Pont Padog is in my constituency and is being done now.

Mr. Swayne: I stand corrected. In south Wales, with respect to the A470--again, a road I know well, having contested Pontypridd in 1987--and the A479 at Talgarth, there has been a considerable scaling down of projects.

On education, there have been some modest increases in the amount of money available. However, while the headline figures sound higher, the actual amount that local education authorities will spend is more modest. That must be set against the vast increase in the bureaucratic intrusion in schools--a mistake started, and now thankfully admitted, by the Conservative party. However, that is compounded by the Government's arrangements.

I quote as an example literacy hour. Everyone approves of literacy hour. It is a good thing, but the way in which it has been imposed, and the strictures and requirements that arise from it, mean that it will inevitably affect other parts of the school day. It becomes less attractive when one learns that the visit by the parish priest or vicar to a school has been curtailed or excluded as a consequence of literacy hour.

Mr. Hain: Could the hon. Gentleman explain how he thinks the literacy hour is being applied in Wales?

Mr. Swayne: The literacy hour, imposed or required in schools, has in some cases--I am aware of one--led to the ending of the vicar's visit to a school.

Mr. Hain: If the hon. Gentleman knew anything about education in Wales, he would know that we have not imposed a literacy hour on schools in Wales.

Mr. Swayne: The effect of Government policy with respect to the literacy hour has led to those consequential changes. If that is an acceptable form of words to the

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Minister, I will be satisfied, but that must be seen against the failure, or--what is the word?--the sluggishness in delivering on class sizes.

Mr. Win Griffiths: While the hon. Gentleman was searching for the word, I thought that I might ask him to let us know whether that vicar was unable to go to a school in Wales, or in England.

Mr. Swayne: It is my son's school. He came home and told me that the vicar was excluded. I do not see that there is any difference in principle between a literacy hour in rural England and one in Wales, but, irrespective of that, what we have not seen is the reduction in class sizes that was promised.

I have always regarded the fixation with class sizes as misplaced on the ground that the relationship between class sizes and standards has always been somewhat tenuous. However, the problems will come home to roost when schools at the margin--small rural schools--find that, as a result of having to comply with the requirement to keep classes below 30, they have to acquire an extra member of staff, which will make those schools economically unviable. Pressure will then be mounted by education authorities to close the schools. I strongly suspect that parents who might have wanted class sizes below 30 and who have to make a choice between schools with classes in excess of 30 that were nevertheless local to them, and having no school at all, will choose the former rather than the latter.

Some 233 fundholding practices exist in Wales, accounting for almost 1,000 general practitioners. Those practices treat more than half the Welsh population--some 57 per cent. There is a marked lack of enthusiasm among GPs for the new collective arrangements. Of course, the governing party has made it clear that that was part of its programme and it has a mandate to do that, but it also has a mandate--it sold its policy on health with this commitment--to reduce waiting lists. There has not yet been the decline in waiting lists that we could have duly anticipated, given the hype that the governing party attached to it.

The 1.7 per cent. increase in the allocation for police forces for 1999-2000 should be set against the 2.5 per cent. increase in England. It ill behoves the Government to trumpet their success in law and order when police forces in Wales are now marginally smaller than they were when the Government came to power.

I have drawn attention to several problems or challenges, depending on the way in which one looks at it, particularly in respect of economics. Those challenges will require clear and decisive political leadership. What confidence can we have that that political leadership will be in place?

Wales is to be subjected to a new and novel form of government. I chose my words carefully--I said, "subjected". Only a majority of less than 1 per cent.--0.6 per cent.--of the electorate in Wales voted for the changes. Indeed, less than a quarter of the Welsh population voted for the arrangements that were set out in the White Paper.

As a consequence, the Government, in humility, announced that they would be sensitive in the arrangements that were put in place. That pledge was made by the Prime Minister on the day after the

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referendum and repeated in some respects by the then Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies). He said:


    "the referendum results showed a marked difference in views between both north Wales and south Wales and between east Wales and west Wales . . . I am conscious that we need to do a lot more work to bring Wales together. We must address genuine concerns and I acknowledge the fact that we must listen and continue to listen".---[Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 18 November 1997; c. 12.]

Some of us on the Conservative Benches have wondered throughout the process precisely what the sensitivity consists of. The arrangements that have been put in place strike me as somewhat insensitive.

The pledge in paragraph 3.33 of the White Paper--that Wales would remain an integral part of the United Kingdom--did not appear in the Government of Wales Bill, despite the fact that amendments were tabled so that it would. Now it is an Act, it contains no such provision, but what it does contain is the arrangement by which more power can be granted to the Assembly on the basis of statutory orders and a 90-minute debate in the House, with no provision by which powers can be restored and moved the other way. What we have is a ratchet effect by which the Assembly's powers might grow at the expense of the House. That does not strike me as representing the sensitivity that was required in respect of the referendum result.

We understand, and have understood for some months, that the Secretary of State for Wales is also to be the First Secretary of the Assembly--the emperor is also to be the consul. The character of that Assembly is still entirely opaque. The Government of Wales Act 1998 makes it clear that the Assembly might adopt a Cabinet system of government, but there is no requirement for it to do so, so Wales faces considerably uncertain times.

Given the demand for clear political leadership and vision, the most striking deficit in respect of the Welsh government arrangements is the voting system that has been put in place to supply Members of the Assembly. Voters will have two votes. The first will be cast in a first-past-the-post ballot, in the same way as votes are cast to elect Members of the House. In addition, voters will cast a second vote. The seats allocated on the basis of the second vote will be calculated by an extraordinary method.

For each electoral region, the number of votes cast for a particular party will be added up and divided by one more than the number of seats that that party has already won under the first-past-the-post arrangements in that electoral region. Explain that to the ordinary voter and try to persuade him of the connection between casting his vote and delivering a Member of Parliament from out of the sausage machine. I defy hon. Members to try fairly to explain such a system to ordinary voters. Confidence in the democratic system rests precisely on the ability to explain the operating electoral system.


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