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Mr. Livsey: Surely it is incorrect to claim that Members were unelected, given that the election was held as a consequence of primary legislation passed in this House. Those 20 individuals were legally elected under the PR system devised for the Welsh Assembly.

Sir Raymond Powell: One should examine in detail who was elected, how they were elected and to whom they are individually answerable. What rights do they have to hold surgeries? I found one in the surgery that I use at my town hall some months ago, sitting where I usually sit in an office that I normally use. He was a Welsh Assembly Member but not even from the Ogmore constituency. I do not know whether he was taking complaints on my behalf or on behalf of my daughter, who is a Member of the Assembly.

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When the votes were counted, there were 27 elected Labour Members out of 40. Without the candidates on the list, the position today would be very different. We are having a meeting in Blaenau Gwent at the weekend on the subject of PR. Eight Tories got elected. Only one of them was elected by the people of Wales. Nine Welsh nationalists were elected but eight went on the list. The leader of the Welsh national party boasted in the Chamber about his membership but he has nine elected Members and nine appointees.

What have the Liberal Democrats to boast about? Have they got as many Members as the Welsh nationalists? No way--but still they had three unelected Members appointed to the Assembly. We were saved only by having the First Secretary elected under the system, and I was very glad about that.

My only consolation from all the voting was that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) was elected. I want to say a few words about how much work my right hon. Friend put in to the Welsh Assembly. The Welsh nationalists may not appreciate that--half their Members were not elected anyway--but what my right hon. Friend accomplished was appreciated by many people in the Assembly. It is all right for anyone coming after him to take up the cudgels, but it is a different matter to start it from raw and create the situation that we have today.

I warn the Welsh nationalists, who keep warning the Labour party, against trying again the trick that they tried only a couple of weeks ago--the farcical idea of tabling a motion on a problem that they knew the First Secretary could not solve. They knew that the Treasury had no licence to give money to Wales and that the First Secretary could not obtain match funding for objective 1. We have learned a lot about objective 1; we can study it again. Next time, the Liberal Democrats might not get cold feet--they might come into the Chamber and turn the nationalists down. I warn my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that we must have a solution to ensure that the people whom we elect in Wales are protected from someone who uses his office as Presiding Officer in the interests of his nationalist party.

Not only do I send my congratulations and condolences to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, but I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on taking on this position. I am confident from the work that he has already accomplished for us in the Government, particularly in Northern Ireland, that he will fulfil his duties, as we expect of him, in a most dignified way. I wish him the best of luck and great support for the future.

The Opposition talked earlier today about the difficulties and problems of the Labour party. We are not hiding behind desks--we know that we have had problems. We had problems regarding our election for the leadership, and we have had problems since then that were no fault of ours. One of our Members happened to walk over Clapham common one Sunday night, causing uproar and disgust to a number of his colleagues in the House. That lost us votes, seats, support, Assembly Members and control of councils. It was undoubtedly one of the worst accidents that could have happened not only to the person concerned but to the party. The problems that we had were similar in size and upset to the problems of sleaze that the Tories had before the last election.

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We have got over that problem, and I am confident that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) will take up the reins as the First Secretary of the Assembly. He will have my support and that of all his colleagues in the House. I hope that we will also see the friendliness, objectivity and comradeship that people talk about wanting for the Assembly, but which the Welsh nationalists, in particular, have not shown so far.

4.53 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I am sure that my contribution will sound moderate and, dare I say, contemporary compared to that of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell). During the last Welsh Grand Committee debate, I was accused of whingeing and scaremongering. Some--not all--Labour Members said that there was no problem in rural Wales. One of them is in the Chamber now. Unfortunately, we have seen a deepening crisis in rural Wales, and I am afraid that I am not scaremongering.

I said in response to the Secretary of State's reference to the commissioner that I wholeheartedly accepted the Waterhouse report. It is a wonderful piece of work, and I respect him for doing it. I am glad that it will be implemented as soon as possible. The Government are doing many things that I can fully accept. I am not one of those professional whingers who finds against everybody on every count. That does nothing for anyone's credibility.

Our Assembly colleagues tried to sort out the agricultural crisis by introducing a calf-processing scheme and attempting to assist farmers but, every time that they have tried to help, they have been hampered by people in this place. The problems of tir gofal, organic aid, beef on the bone and others have all been made worse by the reluctance of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to support the Assembly's proposals.

Mr. Flynn: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that 80 per cent. of farm subsidy goes to the 20 per cent. of farmers who are the richest, very few of whom are in Wales? Does he further agree that the NFU in Wales should campaign for modulation to ensure that the poorest farmers--those in real need--receive the subsidies being overpaid to the richest farmers, who are mainly in England?

Mr. Llwyd: I agree entirely and have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman is right. I hope that the NFU will conduct that campaign. However, the hon. Gentleman's party campaigned before the election for modulation, but it has changed its mind. That is one of life's funny quirks, but I hope that the NFU will pick up the ball and run with it after reading today's debate.

Mr. Öpik: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that modulation has been discussed by the Select Committee on Agriculture, and there is strong support for it among some members of the Committee, as well as further afield?

Mr. Llwyd: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support; there is clearly--in the words that the hon. Member for Ogmore could not find--a consensual approach. There is a feeling that MAFF has been less than

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helpful to the Assembly. If the Assembly decides--excuse the pun--to plough a particular furrow, I hope that MAFF will allow it to do so rather behaving as it has in the past.

There is a general rural crisis. The single programming document submitted on the Assembly's behalf does not include enough about the problems of rural Wales, although its amended form says more. The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) rightly said that 80 per cent. of support goes to the richest farmers. In my area, most farmers are hill farmers whose incomes have dropped by 62 per cent. over the past two years--and they were hardly raking it in before that. Heaven knows how they exist at all.

The crisis is hitting not just one industry, but the whole rural economy. Shops and businesses are going down too. Every sector of agriculture has fallen. The width of the crisis distinguishes it from previous crises such as that of the 1930s. The situation in rural Wales is absolutely disastrous, but the historical relationship between sterling and farm incomes suggests that 2000 will see yet further falls as sterling continues to appreciate.

To be fair, I must say that the recession in agriculture is not affecting other industries, many of which appear to be doing well. However, incomes in the dairy sector fell by 21 per cent. between 1998-99 and this year. In less favoured areas, cattle and sheep incomes have fallen by 28 per cent. There are few farmers now in the pigmeat industry, in which the crisis has come to a head. We all know of the deepening crisis in the dairy industry.

This is the fifth year of recession for the agricultural industry. How long can it go on? The UK economy grew in 1998 by 2.2 per cent. In 1999, it grew by 3 per cent., and it will grow by probably a little more than 3 per cent. this year. However, there are no signs whatever of a recovery in the agriculture industry.

I am not whingeing without making suggestions as to what can be done, although the suggestions are not mine, but those of the NFU. Several matters can be tackled. Sterling remains over-valued; that makes exports less competitive and renders domestic markets vulnerable to cheap imports. As sterling has appreciated, prices have collapsed. It is obvious what the answer is on that matter.

The BSE crisis left the industry with greatly increased costs throughout the supply chain and with little or no export market for British beef. The collapse in world commodity markets brought on by the Asian and Russian financial crises had impacts on wool prices and so on.

European legislation allows for about £450 million compensation for UK agriculture during 2000-- £47 million of that is immediately available to Wales. So far, the Government have promised to pay only 20 per cent. of that to the UK--less than 12 per cent. has been committed to Wales. The agrimonetary compensation package is vital. When the Secretary of State speaks with his colleagues, I urge him to request clarification of that matter.

We understand that there will be a contribution through the Fontainebleau agreement, but the industry is in crisis. Surely if his colleague, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, can stump up tens of millions of pounds for Longbridge--good luck to the people of Longbridge--we can have some support for Welsh farmers.

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NFU Cymru--Wales--points out that net farm incomes in Wales average only £4,500. One of the Government's catch phrases is social exclusion--rightly. The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs--members of which are in the Chamber--is examining that subject. Considerable work has already been done and evidence has been taken. I hope that useful reports will be prepared in due course, and that the Government will respond accordingly.

However, the Government are not doing anything for social exclusion in rural Wales. I shall not do my credibility any good by agreeing with the Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), but his comments on transport and fuel prices in rural areas were right--cars are a necessity, not a luxury.

Will the Minister lend his considerable support to a campaign to persuade Barclays to reconsider the mass closure of its banks in Wales? Two such closures are proposed in my constituency. One is in Blaenau Ffestiniog--an area that was hard hit economically. Now it is recovering and much work is being done, but Barclays has announced that the branch will be closed.

The other proposed closure is in Harlech. I have written to the chief executive and the chairman of the bank to ask for a meeting. I hope that some good will come of that. However, if the Government are serious about tackling social exclusion, I urge the Secretary of State to play his part in that matter--I know that he is a serious gentleman. Other hon. Members in the Chamber face similar threats to rural and urban branches and the matter needs to be addressed. Government intervention would bring about a change. I urge him to consider the matter.

I shall deal briefly with the subject of post offices, because they have been discussed on several occasions. However, the subject is important in rural Wales. The post office is a crucial element in the provision of support to people on low incomes in rural areas. Together with the church, the chapel and possibly the pub, it gives a village a heart. The post office and the small shop are vital.

I live in a village near Bala, where there is one shop. The proprietor told me, "If I lose the post, I'm closing. That's it." Fortunately, I have a car. Many people--some of them retired and on benefits--will not be able travel to the next town just to do some basic shopping without paying £5 or £6 for a return trip. That is how important post offices are to me. I am acutely aware of the problems--as, I am sure, are many Members. We need to consider the fact that the Government seem hell bent on introducing automated credit transfer. It will create havoc in rural areas--I cannot put it any higher than that. It has realistically been estimated that up to 60 per cent. of existing post offices will be under threat if the ACT system is introduced.

For I all know, the Minister for Competitiveness may be sincere in what he says; he has worked in the postal industry. However, I am worried about the way in which the Department of Social Security will approach the matter. Only a few years ago, it tried to get the elderly to receive their money directly in a bank account. In fact, it made it difficult for them to do otherwise. Such an approach would harm post offices in rural Wales. We know that 63 per cent. of the existing post offices in Wales receive 40 per cent. of their turnover from carrying out such transactions. The issue is extremely important.

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I am not scaremongering. I am deeply worried about the issue. I live in a community in which people are desperately concerned, and I am rightly raising that concern at this stage. I hope that the Minister will take the issue on board, because there is no doubt that it will impact on rural Wales far more than on the rest of the United Kingdom.

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