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Mr. Jones: The hon. Gentleman will remember the Chancellor's special measures for rural transport, which added up to the equivalent of 8p a litre. The Government have listened on that point and they recognise the problem, as the Committee does in the report.
My time is up. The Committee awaits the Government's response with great anticipation. Plaid Cymru, in submitting today's motion, have demonstrated an impatience and a need to grab headlines for a day instead of waiting for a considered response from the Executive. That is sad.
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I congratulate the hon. Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones) on his chairmanship of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. He and his Committee deserve all credit for their hard work on the excellent report before us. That said, I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's criticism of our timing of the motion. Today's timely debate has allowed many Labour Members to give their views on matters including manufacturing and Corus, and to express constituency concerns and angers. Our motion is worded extremely carefully. It notes the report, and calls for no action from the Government. We expect Labour Members to support it because it is a tame motion and has cross-party support.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger), who made a great contribution to the debate by distributing useful lists
The motion addresses the wider issues of social exclusion that my hon. Friend set out in his sterling opening speech. By setting out his definitions of poverty and social exclusion, my hon. Friend made it clear that social exclusion goes wider than employment or even wages. It includes access to services, particularly in rural areas, where there are many difficulties in Wales. My hon. Friend was clear on how steps could be taken to engender indigenous business growth and support. That could have been of use to Corus, although it is too late to find out whether that would have been so. Certainly, such support should be available for the future support of what remains of the steel industry in Wales.
My hon. Friend made it clear that the Government could yet intervene in the debate on the future of that industry. The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) acknowledged that the Government have a role, and it has been too long since a Government were prepared to intervene in industrial policy. After 18 years of Conservative Governments ignoring industrial policy, we have had four years in which Labour has been content to let the Bank of England decide industrial policy. That has been disastrous for Wales.
My hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy concluded with some remarks on the Barnett formula. It is worth impressing on the House some views on the formula. Lord Barnett himself assumed that it would be temporary. My hon. Friend compared the formula to the Drws-y-nant traffic lights, which he said had been in place for 23 years too long. I must tell him that the Barnett formula has existed for 22 years, so it will need only one more year before it beats that record. As with traffic lights on roads that we pass along every day, we have grown used to the Barnett formula. It can turn red or green as it lets us have some money one year or none the next. We never question the need for the formula, and that is the point of this debate.
I was pleased to hear Labour Members acknowledge the need to review the formula because it is outmoded, mechanistic and formulaic. It is based on what the Welsh economy was like 20 years ago, when gross domestic product was closer to 90 per cent. than the 80 per cent. that it represents today. For 20 years, the formula has been entrenched, instead of dealing, as it was supposed to, with changes year on year. The passage of time means that it deals with figures above the funding coming into Wales, not just with changes to funding. The case for changing the formula is unanswerable. The only opposition to change has come from the hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone).
Mr. Caton: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Thomas: I do not have much time. I did not write a brief before arriving, as many Ministers do, and I want to respond to everyone who has made a point in the debate. If I have time later, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Labour Members suggest that we see the Barnett formula as meaning that every part of the country must get back what it gives in income tax and other taxation.
Redistribution is a good, old-fashioned socialist word, but that is what we want enshrined in the relationship between Wales and the Westminster Parliament so long as the people of Wales still want that relationship to exist. The Barnett formula has its place, but it must be reviewed and its analysis must be more closely based on need. If it is not, the people of Wales will question even more the relationship between this place and the National Assembly and Government in Wales.
We welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the hon. Member for City of York (Mr. Bayley), to a Plaid Cymru debate. Usually, the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) attends Welsh questions, and it is good to see her neighbour today. The Minister spoke well from his brief--he had it off pat--but it was a brief full of statistics with no feeling for how people lead their lives in Wales. What he said would not go down well with those who feel the depths of social exclusion, poverty and low incomes. By telling us always what the Government intend to do, the Government betray their own voters, who expected them to have done something after four years in government.
The Minister was quite right to refer to the 18 extraordinary years of Conservative Government, but the Government have had nearly a quarter of that time: they should be at least a quarter of the way towards reforming society, but that does not seem to be so.
Mr. Bayley: If the hon. Gentleman reads my speech later, he will find that I have listed not what the Government intend to do, but what we have done. When we came to power, 95,000 pensioners had pensions of £62.45 a week or less, and they now receive the minimum income guarantee. Their incomes are £18 higher, and will rise to £92 in April. Unemployment is down, and the number of parents no longer on income support but in work has risen. In response to the hon. Gentleman's point on children, I can tell him that 21.1 per cent. of children in Wales were in workless households in spring 1997, and the figure is now 19.5 per cent. We are moving in the right direction, although I would be the first to agree that there is a long way to go.
Mr. Thomas: The Minister finishes on precisely the point that I wrote down from his speech--the Government need to do more. That is precisely what the motion says. Statistics may show movements this way or that, but there is an amazing sense of complacency from Labour Back Benchers, particularly as regards manufacturing industry.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) was correct to concentrate some of his remarks on the rural areas, because they have been somewhat ignored by Conservative Members. I was pleased to see him
There is a lack of understanding of the real social exclusion in rural areas. It has to be seen to be believed. It takes a visit to a dairy farm where the farmer's income is less than £4,000 and he is too proud to claim the benefits that are available. He will not make that claim on behalf of his family because he is a business man who has always run the farm himself--he has always kept it going. That happens increasingly in rural areas.
In two years, 6,300 farming jobs were lost--under the Labour Government, not under any previous Government. By comparison, 16,000 manufacturing jobs were lost. Between 165 and 175 jobs are being lost in my constituency: of 700 people--mainly females--employed in manufacturing in Ceredigion, 165 have lost their job overnight, with the closure of a factory in a town of fewer than 2,000 people. That has a devastating effect. Such job losses may not make the headlines, but they are just as damaging to small communities.
In the countryside, we are experiencing a silent shutdown. The countryside is slowly being turned off--tractor by tractor; factory by factory; post office by post office--until it will be nothing but scrubland or a nice place to visit. That is the truth about what is happening in the countryside at present. Labour Members must understand that context for social exclusion and poverty, as well as that for the large numbers of people affected in the valleys and the south-east of Wales. Those areas are equally important, but the countryside has been overlooked.
The right hon. Member for Llanelli pursued excellence in his speech. He gave a concise account of his understanding of the events at Corus during the past few months. I do not disagree with his three analyses. His speech was similar to the one that he always makes about Barnett; he made a threadbare defence of the Treasury's control of the economy of Wales.