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Mr. Murphy: The right hon. Gentleman will know that in previous outbreaks of the disease farmers who lost their stock were directly compensated. There was a danger that their stock would infect other stock. Consequential compensation has not yet been considered, but I shall make sure that his points are put to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): At the weekend, I spoke to my brother-in-law, who is a farmer, and to other farmers about compensation. A number of people have been indirectly affected. Many of my constituents are small hoteliers. They have been drastically affected by the cancellation of the rugby match, which was entirely to do--[Interruption.] These are not small matters, as the cancellation meant losses of £5 million to the Welsh Rugby Union and considerably more to small hoteliers around Cardiff. If indirect compensation is considered, I hope that the Government will take account of matters such as the cancellation of major events, which have large knock-on effects for many small businesses.
Mr. Murphy: I take my hon. Friend's point, but the compensation has so far been limited to those who are directly losing their stock, which would pose a danger to other stock. His points about Cardiff are well taken and I am sure that my colleagues in other Departments will take note of them. I do not underestimate the problems that have arisen because of the disease, which in some senses go far beyond the farms themselves, but compensation was not paid in respect of such matters in the past.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): This morning, I heard that slaughterhouses are seeking to exploit the situation by reducing the price that they offer farmers. If that is happening, does the Secretary of State wholly deplore it, because farmers are in a desperate situation and they need to get their meat to slaughterhouses? Will the Government do everything they can to facilitate farmers getting their stock to slaughter where it is safe to do so, and, in the longer term, will he undertake to consider with his colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food reopening more small slaughterhouses so that animals do not have to be carted vast distances to slaughter?
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman and Members from Welsh constituencies will be aware that a number of abattoirs have opened to receive such stock in north
I find it extraordinary that so many Conservative Members seem to think that there is something outrageous about the idea of strength going hand in hand with diversity. That is absolutely and completely what devolution is about: Welsh domestic approaches to Welsh domestic matters in a strong partnership with the United Kingdom Government.
There is a corollary to that. Serious politicians spend their energies tackling problems that they have an ability to influence, and that is the approach taken by the Labour party in the National Assembly. The Welsh nationalists, Plaid Cymru, seem to have other ideas. They see the Assembly as little more than a platform for their own ideas. They have nothing of substance to offer by way of an alternative to the programme being implemented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) and his Administration, but that is for them to deal with in the Assembly.
The Conservatives, too, have their plans. No doubt they will make plenty of attacks on the Assembly Administration in this debate. They seem unable to face up to the fact that devolution is here and that it works. They will get over it sooner or later--probably later. Much later, I expect.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way with his usual courtesy. Does he accept that it is not only Conservatives who criticise the operations of the Welsh Assembly? His colleague, the First Secretary, stated in the Western Mail on 10 October 2000:
Mr. Murphy: As the hon. Gentleman knows, many Conservatives were involved in such activity. My right hon. Friend was referring to the need for stability in the National Assembly. The partnership in the Assembly between my party and the Liberal Democrats exists to ensure stability.
This Wales day debate will be of considerable interest to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as a Welsh person. It marks another milestone in the history of the new, post-devolution Wales. It offers us, as Members of the House of Commons, a chance to look back at a full year of devolution. It gives all of us an opportunity to review the work of the UK Government, and to consider what might happen in the year ahead.
I am, of course, fully confident that the people of Wales, when they come to decide, will endorse the Government's record. Some figures published in the past few weeks might help the House to understand why I am so confident about that outcome.
First, the new earnings survey published in December showed that the earnings of full-time employees in Wales rose by 4 per cent. between April 1999 and April 2000.
I should also like to draw the House's attention to the policy of the Liberal Democrats. They thought that it was wrong that Welsh employees, especially Welsh women, had such pay increases thanks to the minimum wage. Their policy was--or is, unless it has changed--a regionally varied minimum wage, which would mean lower wages for Wales.
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): That is not the case. I have never supported a regional minimum wage. I believe that the minimum wage is being misused by powerful companies in, for example, the health care industry. They go down to the lowest common denominator and take on new employees at the lowest possible level, which did not happen before, when they were in the national health service, for instance.
Mr. Murphy: I am grateful for that intervention, but I am not much clearer about the policy of the Liberal Democrats on the national minimum wage. At least the Conservative shadow spokesman for trade and industry said that, although his party had misgivings, it welcomed today's announcement. But there we are. We shall wait and see.
After the earnings figures published in December came the employment figures. I know that many people in Wales still face the threat of redundancy, and at least 300 of my constituents are threatened with the loss of their jobs with Corus.
On Friday, along with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West, I met representatives of all the steel plants affected by the company's proposals. We listened not just to the expressions of justified anger and upset--how else would we expect workers at some of the most efficient steel plants in the world to react when faced with closure announcements?--but to people who were determined to do all that they could to keep as many jobs as possible at those plants.
Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside): Steel workers at Shotton are very grateful to my right hon. Friend and his Parliamentary Private Secretary for what they have tried to do to help them in the corridors of power, notwithstanding the 400 redundancies that we face at that plant.
Are the Government considering any measures to take into account the comparatively high wages that young redundant steel workers have been earning? Will it be possible to make up the difference when those workers have new jobs?
Mr. Murphy: My right hon. Friend has worked hard on behalf of his constituents at Shotton. As he knows, the Government are considering a variety of packages. He will also know that, as we speak, the trade unions are working out alternatives to the Corus proposals. It would be wrong for me to go into detail until those alternatives had been put to the management.
The trade unions' pitch to Corus is firmly based on the commercial realities of the steel industry. We in the Government and the Assembly are pledged to do all that we can, within the tight constraints of the coal and steel community treaties and codes, to assist them. It is a tragedy that Corus has so far refused to engage constructively with either the unions or the Government, but I hope the whole House will join me in urging the chief executive, the chairman, Sir Brian Moffat, and his colleagues to listen to the unions' commercially based proposals.