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Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): If I understood my hon. Friend correctly, he was saying that the system will result also in two rather different types of Member of Parliament. Am I right in thinking that the effect of that

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will be that whereas some Members of Parliament will be accountable and responsible to their constituents, other Members of Parliament will lack that same type of link?

Mr. Swayne: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is unfortunate that Wales is to become something of a social experiment in those matters. We will have to wait to see how the system works. Currently, it is unclear.

The system is worse than I have described it, because of the way in which parties have gone about selecting their candidates for the second ballot. There is a perception--in these matters, perceptions are very important indeed--that there has been a stitch-up. The perception is compounded by the arrangements that the Labour party has made for the election of its own leadership candidate. It is a tribute to "people's democracies" that that election system should have been designed to deliver the desired result. The desired result was indeed delivered.

We shall have to await the outcome of the arrangements to discover whether they will provide the leadership and vision that is capable of delivering solutions to the problems that I mentioned earlier. I have grave doubts that they are so capable. I hope that I am wrong.

4.12 pm

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West): The debate has focused, quite understandably, on issues of the Welsh economy. I shall take a different course, however, and deal briefly with two matters. The first is our priceless national asset in Wales--the Welsh language and its future role, particularly in the National Assembly for Wales. Secondly, I shall deal briefly with some aspects of the constitutional future, and the relationship between the National Assembly and this place.

I should like first to say a few words about the economy in Wales. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) that the Assembly's priority has to be jobs, jobs and jobs. I agree entirely also with the Secretary of State that we have to combat social exclusion in Wales and improve the performance of the Welsh economy. There is an expectation that the European Union structural funds that we hope will be coming to Wales will be of assistance to us. I also believe that the Secretary of State's position on additionality is entirely understandable and realistic. It would be wrong to put the cart before the horse, or for the Treasury to make any firm commitments on additionality.

The economy is a very real issue in my constituency. We have grave concerns also because of job losses in the adjoining constituency of Conwy. The Minister will be aware that, yesterday, job losses were announced at Hotpoint, Llandudno Junction. I hope that the Secretary of State--when I meet him next Tuesday, with a delegation from Conwy--will be prepared to discuss the issue, and how we might mitigate the effects of those job losses, which are a blow to the local economy.

Today is very near to St. David's day. It is always appropriate that we should have pride in the Welsh language. The Welsh language belongs to all the people of Wales, regardless of whether they speak Welsh. I welcome the fact that the language is not the political football that it might have been many years ago. I believe that the Welsh Language Board has in the main done good work. I believe also that, although the language should

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not be a political issue, politicians--particularly politicians elected to the Assembly--should be prepared to ask sometimes awkward questions about how money is spent on policies designed to support the Welsh language.

I should like more money to be spent on community-related activity to foster the Welsh language at the grass roots level. I represent a constituency in which the Welsh language is spoken widely, by ordinary people. There is genuine popular demand for services in the Welsh language.

I am aware of one recent case in my constituency in which a Welsh-speaking family--ordinary, working-class people--wanted to send their child to a Welsh-medium school. She is suffering from a very serious hearing impediment, which means that she has special needs and at school will require intensive speech therapy. However, she may not be able to receive speech therapy in the Welsh language. Although the matter is being pursued through the normal channels, it supports my view that, although much progress has been made in improving the status of the Welsh language, much has still to be done. I am of course aware that we have to tread sensitively and practically.

I should like to make two specific points on the language issue as it will affect the National Assembly for Wales. Given the fragmented nature of the Welsh political identity, it is a major political achievement that we stand at the threshold of huge political changes in Wales. There is an expectation that the Assembly will improve Wales's economic performance, although we do not know how realistic is that expectation. There is an expectation also that it will improve the profile of Welsh culture and of the Welsh language.

I should be grateful if the Minister could reassure me on two points. If those who are able and willing to speak Welsh publicly in Assembly sessions are to have confidence in doing so, a good quality translation facility should be available. Assembly Members also should have confidence in the accuracy of translations. It may surprise hon. Members to learn that I have recently fallen foul of that expectation.

As right hon. and hon. Members will know, at the beginning of this week, the Welsh Grand Committee met in Aberaeron. I delivered a speech in Welsh, but was much surprised and frustrated, not to say rather annoyed, to learn that the translation that was provided for Hansard--this is not a criticism of Hansard, incidentally--was very inaccurate in many respects. The matter is being pursued through the Chairman of the Welsh Grand Committee. However, we must have confidence that we shall have a good-quality translation, or the Welsh language will not be used as much as it should be.

The proceedings of the National Assembly will be reported. There is perhaps a misunderstanding that the verbatim report, at least the one in Welsh, will not be available for some days after a speech has been delivered. Hon. Members have been lobbied on the issue, and I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify the precise position. I realise that there is a difference between

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preparing the final bound text and a draft of speeches, but, if Members are to use the Welsh language publicly, they should not have to do so under such a hindrance.

Mr. Evans: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, with the use of new technology, there is absolutely no reason why transcripts could not be put on the internet within a matter of hours, rather than Members having to wait days for printed texts?

Mr. Thomas: I agree entirely. As I said, I should like some clarification from Ministers on the issue.

It will be interesting to see how a Welsh debate, such as this one, will be conducted in 10 or 20 years. We are in a time of great constitutional change, and it is not clear where it is taking us. I am rather sceptical about the idea of a Europe of the regions. There is considerable loyalty to the idea of the British state, even among those who strongly support the need to preserve Welsh political and cultural identity through the Assembly.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) said, we have to accept the fact that there are big fiscal transfers from England to Wales. However, we are in a time of change. The penny has not quite dropped in this place about the procedural consequences of devolution. I am not entirely confident that the Government have got it right on the role of oral questions to the Secretary of State for Wales or the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. I hope that the Committee will continue in more or less its present form, taking a cross-cutting brief examining all aspects of primary legislation and policy that affect Wales.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger) and I recently had the privilege of attending various meetings with colleagues from Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Federal Republic of Germany at the invitation of the German Government.

Mr. Rowlands: I have never thought that the Welsh Affairs Committee did enough on the block grant. Should not that be one of the centrepieces of its future work?

Mr. Thomas: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that remark. I entirely agree that that would be a worthwhile area of study.

The Germans are very interested in what is going on in the United Kingdom. I was told by a member of the German Foreign Ministry that devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would make us a more normal country in European terms. That is a telling remark. Our regime is over-centralised. I welcome the trend towards devolution. I do not share the scepticism of those who maintain that there is no demand for devolution in the English regions. That will come. Although our system of quasi-federalism is asymmetrical and will cause problems, there is no reason why we cannot have a more rational constitution. We need some joined-up thinking on the constitution as well as on social policy.

One of the apocryphal incidents ascribed to Dewi Sant, or St. David, our patron saint, is the time when the ground rose up beneath his feet when he was delivering a sermon somewhere in mid-Wales. That is a striking symbol that makes us think of raising awareness, raising standards and raising horizons. The Assembly has a crucial role in raising standards across Wales. As a patriotic Welshman,

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I regret to say that we are too often seen as a mediocre country in many respects. We need a crusade to raise standards across the board--in education, local government and all walks of life, including industry.


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