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Mr. Livsey: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evans: I am sorry, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that we are approaching the end of the debate and I have to make progress.

I am sure that the Minister is as alarmed as I am to hear reports of another four cases of meningitis in Wales. What positive action is being taken with the Bro Taff health authority and the two charities in south Wales that are involved in disseminating information to provide extra resources and to ensure that parents are aware of the risks of meningitis? No one would wish panic to spread throughout Wales, but suitable action must be taken. I am sure that the Minister is aware that a new blood test can identify meningitis within 30 minutes. Is the Department monitoring that to see whether it could be utilised in Wales?

My conclusion from today's debate and what has been going on in Wales in the past 12 months is that agriculture is in crisis; people are waiting longer for health treatment; and there are fewer bobbies on the beat. When I asked the Secretary of States for Wales about that, he simply made a grammatical correction to my question. He could not care less that there were fewer policemen on the beat; he was only interested in making a debating point. Manufacturing jobs are in deep decline and confidence in orders from the United Kingdom and from abroad is depressed. The proposals for devolution have not been thought out. I believe that they could be a recipe for conflict and paralysis and that the anomalies that I have identified could make Wales a laughing stock.

Wales was promised that things could only get better. They have not; they have got worse for many people. Wales deserves better than the present Government, who are besotted by spin and style but have no substance whatever. The people are the victims. They are paying higher stealth taxes, higher council taxes and fees for students' education. They are suffering lost grants, worse pension fund rates and poorer services. We want fair play--chwarae teg--for Wales, and that is what the Conservative party will deliver to the Welsh people in the Welsh Assembly.

6.4 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): We take no lectures from the Conservatives about democracy. They trampled over the democratic wishes of the people of Wales for 18 long and bitter years. I know what the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) means about speaking with irony in the House when he says that Rod Richards talks common-sense policies: a contradiction in terms if ever there was one.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State offers his apologies, as he has had to leave the debate early for a long-standing speaking commitment at the coastal forum in Cardiff: an important conference to be addressed by the European Commissioner for Transport, Mr. Neil Kinnock.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) that this is a Welsh day debate in which we can celebrate the Labour Government's historic

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achievement of devolution for Wales. I assure my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell) and for Cardiff, North, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), that there is absolutely no reason not to continue to have annual Welsh day debates.

I think that we will need these debates more thanever; but if the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) insists on speaking at them, there will be a problem, as he attacked us for imposing a literacy hour in Wales, which we have not done, and for dropping from our roads programme a road that is being built at this very time in north-west Wales, as the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) informed him.

In less than two years, there have been dramatic changes to the political landscape in Wales. By the summer, we will have a devolved National Assembly for Wales, speaking for Wales for the first time and giving the people of Wales a real voice. We will create a new democracy that is participatory, open and inclusive of all the groups in Wales that were denied a voice under 18 years of Tory rule. We will empower women's groups, voluntary groups, trade unions, business and many others.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North, who said that one of the most exciting things about the National Assembly for Wales is that, because of the lead that Labour has given, we will have for the first time equality for women in the government of Wales. That will be an historic achievement. The Labour Government, and not any other party, delivered that. I acknowledge a little bit of help from the Liberals and from Plaid Cymru in the referendum, and I defer to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, who has exhibited in this debate the non-ranting face of nationalism.

Our Labour Government is leading Wales to a confident future. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli that we do not want to have a whingeing Assembly. With decisions being made in Wales, the option of blaming London for everything will disappear and we will resolve our own priorities.

The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) made a cogent and interesting speech, apart from his rather limp series of points about the economy. Let me remind him that there has been a 27 per cent. fall in unemployment in his constituency since the general election. The contrast between his speech and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney was striking, because the latter made a powerful case for exactly the opposite economic strategy to that pursued under the Thatcherite Tories: one of active government. He included a timely plug for his forthcoming book. I can testify, having chaired a packed lecture by him in Neath, where he spoke for an hour and a half on the industrial history of Wales--the theme of his book--that it will be a riveting read.

In "Pathways to Prosperity", we set out a serious economic agenda for Wales. I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli that there remain serious weaknesses in the Welsh economy that we have inherited, largely as a result of decades of Tory neglect. Manufacturing accounts for 28 per cent. of output in the Welsh economy and the Labour Government recognise its importance. We are working closely with

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manufacturers to tackle the problems created by a worldwide decline in output and the high pound, which again we inherited from the Conservative Government. I remind the Opposition that the pound is now roughly at the level that we inherited, having gone up to cure the consumption boom that the Tories created in the run up to the general election.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) rose--

Mr. Hain: I am sorry, but I do not have time to take interventions. One of the central messages of "Pathways to Prosperity"--and it was graphically illustrated in the devastating and savage closure of Lucas in Ystradgynlais, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey), although three quarters of the plant's workers came from my constituency--is that any notion that we could continue to flirt with the strategy of the previous Conservative Government, and seek to attract manufacturing jobs into Wales on the basis of low labour and other costs, has been swept aside. If anybody ever believed that we could attract jobs to Wales through low costs, that has been swept aside by Lucas's decision, at short notice, to switch production to Poland and Slovakia, where wages are a quarter of what they are even in the upper Swansea valley, where people were being paid £170 a week--a low wage by anybody's standards.

Wage costs are much lower in east European countries and we cannot compete on low cost alone. We have to turn the Welsh economy into a high-quality, high-skill, value-added economy that is at the leading edge of technological development and scientific innovation. I agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Mr. Williams) about the application of objective 1 funds to his constituency and other valley and west Wales constituencies. If we can use that enormous investment to drive up the standards of infrastructure, skills, scientific development and engineering--the latter has been neglected for far too long--we will turn the Welsh economy into a world-class economy. The links that my hon. Friend mentioned between higher and further education and business are crucial to that task.

Over the past 20 months, we have developed a strategy of partnership with business in Wales. It is striking that when I talk to people from the business community, as I do in my capacity as industry Minister, they tell me how much they enjoy working with this Labour Government, because we listen and are approachable, in contrast with the Conservative Government whom the business community had to suffer, along with everyone else in Wales, for so long. That partnership extends beyond business to the trade unions, voluntary groups and, indeed, to everyone in Wales.

We have also had much success in bringing down unemployment, which has fallen by 15,000 since the general election. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore is right to say that we need to do more, and I assure him that we will look at the training scheme in his constituency which he said is so successful. Our new deal to bring thousands of young and long-term unemployed people off welfare and into work with high-class training or full-time study is an enormous success. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) that this Government should empower people who have been trapped in despair on the dole for

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so long. The success of the new deal is there to be seen. Some 13,000 people have come off the dole. We have created nearly 4,000 real jobs and some 3,000 employers have been involved. I wish to pay especial tribute to my parliamentary colleagues in Wales for the way in which they have supported the new deal, and I single out my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, who has attended every event that I have been to on the new deal in his constituency.

We have put in place a new strategy for the valleys, and next week we will announce a new initiative to promote extra investment and to encourage companies to locate and expand in the excellent locations that exist in the valleys. In addition, I can tell the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy that we have a food strategy that adds value to Welsh agriculture: by merging the agency responsible for promoting Welsh food with the economic powerhouse that is the Welsh Development Agency, we have given it a central place in the WDA's economic strategy.

We are also tackling poverty by means of the national minimum wage. The Conservatives fought the legislation for that throughout its passage through Parliament, and sought to deny some of the lowest-paid and poorest citizens and workers in Wales their elementary rights and opportunities. I can tell Conservative Members that £3.60 an hour is a fantastic boost for many workers in my constituency, who have earned wages as derisory as £1.80 or £2 an hour.

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