Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): I apologise for not being present for the early part of the debate as I had a dental appointment. It is a privilege to contribute to the debate: the last to be held this century and the last under the present constitutional arrangements. There was no equivalent debate last year as we were considering the Government of Wales Bill, which will change fundamentally the context in which we debate many issues.

Yesterday and the day before, we passed the orders that transfer responsibilities from the Secretary of State to the National Assembly for Wales. It is significant to note not only what was transferred, but what was not. Main policy areas that will not be transferred to the National Assembly include macro-economic policy, social security, the justice system, prisons, the police and the fire services, the national lottery, labour market policy and defence. I think that there will always be a role for this debate, for the Welsh Grand Committee and for the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, in examining those policy areas that impact upon Wales but are not the responsibility of the National Assembly.

I mentioned defence, which has some significance in Wales and in my constituency. There is considerable concern at present about the future provision and development of ammunition in this country. The royal ordnance factory at Glascoed in my constituency manufactures ammunition and employs about 400 people. However, the factory and the future of those 400 workers are under threat due to the recent decision by the Ministry of Defence to purchase propellant from South Africa rather than from a royal ordnance factory in Scotland. I have a duty to represent those employees in this place and express my concerns about the actions of the Ministry of Defence in passing responsibility for producing propellant to another country. Although South Africa is a friendly country, there is a strong case, under a sustainable defence policy, for producing our own armaments in Britain rather than being overly dependent on imports.

The factory employees in Glascoed have worked extremely hard during recent conflicts. They produced the ammunition needed in the Iraq and the Falklands wars, and it would be a great tragedy if their jobs were jeopardised. I know that the Defence Select Committee is considering the matter, so I shall say no more at this stage. However, I think it is important to raise the subject.

Another issue of particular importance, not only to Wales but to my constituency, is farming. I am grateful that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently visited my constituency and a local farm at LLanbadoc near Usk. The farmer, Nigel Bowyer, is a young man with a family. He says that he has been losing money on his farm for the past two years, partly because he is a lowland farmer.

To their credit, the Government have produced an emergency aid package for farming. However, it does not apply to lowland farmers to a great extent. We can be truly proud of recent developments in agriculture: the success in lifting the beef ban in Europe, the emergency aid package, the review of hill livestock compensatory allowance payments and the brutal honesty with which the Minister for Agriculture has recognised the problems in the industry and given a commitment to farmers to do all in his power to work on their behalf.

25 Feb 1999 : Column 608

However, some problems remain. Recent Welsh Office figures show that there has been a 41 per cent. drop in farm incomes this year. There is concern about the Agenda 2000 programme and the need to protect the small family farms that are so characteristic of Wales. The beef ban in Europe has been lifted, but we have not resumed beef exports. Milk prices have fallen, and there is concern about the funding of the Food Standards Agency, which the Government are reviewing at present.

When my right hon. Friend came to my constituency with a senior officer from the Welsh Office agricultural division, we drew their attention to the complicated forms that many farmers must fill in these days. We also pointed out that, if farmers make inadvertent mistakes in completing those forms, they can be heavily penalised. Payments that should be made to them are often delayed for an unreasonably long time because they have made unintentional mistakes. Of course we accept the importance of achieving accuracy and avoiding fraud, but when those forms were compared to equivalent forms from Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his officials acknowledged that the forms from Ireland had a more customer-friendly approach, so I ask Welsh Ministers to consider that issue.

Environmental payments have been a concern to hon. Members. We applaud the developments in tir gofal but significant additional resources could be invested in agri-environmental schemes.

The local authorities can play a greater role in agriculture. My authority in Monmouth is a major landowner and owns the local livestock markets, but it would be the first to admit that it has not regarded agriculture as part of its economic development strategy in the past. The emphasis has been on manufacturing. It is to the authority's credit that it is now considering the future of agriculture in Monmouth and examining economic development strategies that will work in the interests of what is the major industry in my constituency.

To its credit, Monmouthshire county council recently organised a seminar on organic farming. We were all surprised by the tremendous number of farmers who expressed an interest in attending and seeking advice on possible conversion to organic farming.

We shall have objective 1 status in Wales. Hopefully, objective 2 will also apply to eastern Wales, the area that I represent. I am grateful that the Welsh Development Agency, in incorporating the work of the Development Board for Rural Wales, will be considering infrastructure projects for agriculture.

Following the report of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, I have advocated the need for a large-scale freezing facility for Wales. There is not such a facility in the whole of the United Kingdom. Although that would be a commercial project, objective 1 or 2 funding could be used to develop that facility, which would be of use to farming communities, not only in Wales, but in the south-west of England.

One of the Government's most significant announcements in the past 18 months is the national strategy for carers, which was announced in the House two weeks ago by the Secretary of State for Health. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has assured me that his Department is currently consulting local authorities, voluntary organisations and the health service to develop the Welsh version of the national

25 Feb 1999 : Column 609

strategy for carers. I acknowledge that that will be the responsibility of the National Assembly for Wales when it is established in a few months.

Last year, I introduced a ten-minute Bill to give carers and the people for whom they care a statutory right to be assessed for respite care. Although my Bill does not appear to have been fully incorporated into the national carers strategy, I am grateful for the strategy's recognition of respite care.

I have been in contact with carers in my constituency who will be greatly heartened by the Prime Minister's foreword to the national carers strategy. He referred to the work that carers do as extraordinary

He said:

    "Carers devote large parts of their own lives to the lives of others--not as part of a job, but voluntarily. And often in addition to working themselves. For the sick, the frail, the vulnerable and the elderly, carers provide help and support in ways which might otherwise not be available."

Carers in my constituency will acknowledge the concern and support that my right hon. Friend has expressed for them.

I pay particular tribute to the Crossroads scheme inmy constituency, in Chepstow and Caldicot and in Monmouth. I recently spoke at its annual general meeting and outlined the significance of dementia, which will be a growing problem in Wales. According to the Alzheimer's Disease Society,

It will affect one in 20 people over the age of 65, and one person in five over the age of 80. Half the people in residential care who are over 80 have dementia. By 2040, when some of us, hopefully, will be in our 80s, if we survive that long, there will be 1.2 million people aged over 65 with dementia. Dementia currently affects more than 700,000 people in the United Kingdom, including 40,600 in Wales. According to the Office for National Statistics, it is estimated that in 1996 there were almost 7,000 people with dementia in the Gwent health authority area.

Many people with dementia are cared for in their own homes by their relatives. Two thirds of people with dementia continue to live in their own homes, including a substantial number who live alone. Many are cared for by family members, who in many cases are elderly themselves. That imposes a tremendous burden on those people.

It is to the Government's credit that the national carers strategy has been established. As a society, we must determine our social priorities. The needs of those suffering from dementia and other chronic conditions pose an immense challenge because our response is dependent on so much voluntary provision, especially the contribution of the vast army of informal carers, most of whom are women.

The challenge that faces us with dementia is not insurmountable. It can be met with the right commitment of statutory and voluntary services in the context of a Government policy that is creative and compassionate. Much of our approach to the care of the elderly has been constrained by negative stereotypes of elderly people being

25 Feb 1999 : Column 610

dependent. Professor Richard Titmuss, the outstanding professor of social policy in Britain, argued that far from being a burden, an aging population represents the triumph of a successful welfare state in reducing premature mortality and improving standards of health and social care.

Our aging population is a celebration, not a burden. I pay tribute to the Chepstow and Caldicot Crossroads, Crossroads schemes throughout Wales, the Carers National Association and all the voluntary organisations that work so hard on behalf of carers and the people whom they care for.

This is the last Welsh day debate before the tremendous constitutional change that we will witness in the next few months. I send my best wishes to all those who will be standing for election to the National Assembly. Opposition Members have spoken of two different types of Assembly Members. It is to the Government's credit that we have established a fair electoral system that will ensure fair representation.

I look forward to working with the Assembly Members. I know that in my constituency they will probably represent different parties, including the Opposition. I look forward to working with those people to ensure that the people of Wales will be better served by having a democratically established Welsh Assembly.

Next Section

IndexHome Page