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Mr. Murphy: I was wondering when the Conservative party was going to attack the National Assembly. I must

5 Mar 2001 : Column 50

tell the hon. Gentleman that the national health service in Wales will, I think, receive an extra £1.3 billion over the next three years. That is the biggest increase ever, and the service treats more people in Wales than ever before.

As for the speech by the leader of the hon. Gentleman's party over the weekend, Welsh people are disturbed by such comments. The devolution settlement, which we all believe is the way ahead, could be seriously undermined by such an attitude to the European Union. Objective 1 European structural funding is vital to ensure that our gross domestic product and economy improve. What would happen if we withdrew from the EU?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Secretary of State knows that we are not going to do that.

Mr. Murphy: Conservatives suggest the next best thing. They never have a warm word for what comes out of Europe. Their spokesmen, from party leader down, have nothing good to say about the EU, even though the lives of millions of people in Wales will be improved by EU structural funding.

Xenophobia about all things foreign, whether that is expressed towards a foreigner from the EU or a foreigner from England, undermines the devolution settlement and the basic tolerance of the Welsh people. Were the Conservatives to win the election--which they will not--I suspect that this would be the last Adjournment debate on Welsh affairs. It is their policy that all Members of Parliament should cease to be equal. According to the leader of the Conservative party, it is their priority to strip Welsh and Scottish Members of Parliament of their rights to vote on many matters that come before the House. For the first time, we would have different classes of Members of Parliament. The Conservatives are supposed to be the party of the Union, but on English laws they plan to have nothing but English votes.

We hear English nationalism from the Conservative party and Welsh nationalism from Plaid Cymru, but none of that coincides with what the Welsh people want. They want to be part of the United Kingdom, and they want their representatives to play a full role in the House of Commons. They do not want to be in a Wales that is split off and cut away from the rest of the UK.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Does the Secretary of State think it right that the decision on hunting with dogs in Scotland is being taken by the Scottish Parliament, but that Scottish MPs could come here and decide that issue on behalf of England and Wales?

Mr. Murphy: It is right. As soon as we try to make Members of Parliament who represent different parts of the UK have different rights and different ways of operating, we undermine the basis of the House of Commons. The vast majority of hon. Members represent English constituencies. If they all voted together, they would easily outvote Members of Parliament who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The House has never divided the way in which it works between different parts of the UK. If that were to happen, it would be a recipe for the break-up of the UK and the House of Commons. Even such an illustrious person as yourself, Madam Deputy Speaker, would find it difficult to rule whether this Adjournment debate was a Welsh or a UK matter.

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Would turkeys vote for Christmas? Would the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) or the hon. Member for North Dorset vote to put themselves out of a job by backing such proposals? If the answer is yes, perhaps they should explain their participation in a debate on Welsh affairs, not to mention their participation in our proceedings on the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill, when Members of Parliament who represented Scottish, Northern Irish and English constituencies--including even hon. Members from constituencies in Lancashire and Dorset--could come to the House of Commons, participate in the debate and vote on an exclusively Welsh Bill. As soon as we start dividing up matters for debate, that will be the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] The people of Wales created the Assembly by voting for it. Conservative Members should understand that a combination of their policy and that of the party that wants complete independence from the United Kingdom would undermine the devolution settlement and the unity of the nation.

Mr. Fabricant: The Secretary of State said that the people voted for the Assembly. Did not 75 per cent. of the Welsh people either abstain or vote against the Assembly?

Mr. Murphy: I make two points to the hon. Gentleman. First, two Conservative Prime Ministers between 1979 and 1997 represented minority Governments. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman himself was elected with a majority of just over 200, and I suspect that more people voted against him than voted for him.

If the Conservatives' answer to my earlier question is no, we are clearly about to witness another of the policy U-turns that has disfigured their stumbling election campaign over the past few weeks. I await further discussion of that matter. Meanwhile, Labour Members intend to preserve the foundation of democratic rule--the notion that all Members of the House, be they ever so mighty or ever so low, be they Welsh, English or from Northern Ireland, have an equal vote.

The past year has been something of a roller-coaster ride for us all. Those who predicted the death of Welsh parliamentary politics because of the creation of the National Assembly must be feeling rather foolish today. As we have seen, our debates on Welsh matters are as lively as ever, whether they take place on the Floor of the House, in Standing Committee or in the Welsh Grand Committee, yet that has all happened at a time when Wales has had its own political voice in the form of the National Assembly. It is not wishful thinking on my part to state that devolution has strengthened the United Kingdom; it is everyday experience. If devolution is to grow and flourish, we must all work constructively with the new institution. Labour Members are fully committed to doing just that.

Our vision is of a strong and confident Wales within a strong and confident United Kingdom. We want a Wales where we enjoy high-quality, efficient public services that are accountable to the people of Wales, and where jobs, education and opportunity are available to all. We want a Wales where we are not afraid of our European partners or our European role, but willing and able to play our part at the very heart of European decision making, both

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through the United Kingdom and with our own voice where appropriate. Above all, our vision is of a tolerant and inclusive Wales that values all its peoples as its greatest assets. In the past year we have moved closer to all those goals, and in the year ahead I know that we can move closer still.

5.23 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): It is a delight for me to take part in this annual St. David's day debate. Mostly, we get no delivery from the Government, but we have late delivery of this debate, albeit by only a few days this year.

I share the Secretary of State's sentiments about the late Cledwyn Hughes. He was a Commons man and a Lords man, actively involved in both Houses. He was a parliamentarian for half a century, and there are few people about whom we can say that. He was passionate about Wales, Britain and politics, and politics is the less for his passing. I was in Ynys Mon on the day that he died, and the people there showed genuine sadness at the news of his passing. I understand that Holyhead was at a standstill during his funeral, which is a tremendous tribute and mark of respect for a man who loved politics. I believe that politics loved him.

On those matters where the Government are prepared to listen, there is tremendous support from Opposition Members. Indeed, during the current appalling outbreak of foot and mouth, we have fully supported the Government's measures to contain that dreadful disease, which is blighting an industry that was already reeling. We have also demonstrated our support for the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill, which was recently passed by the House of Commons and is now proceeding through the House of Lords. We wish that Bill well; we want it to be on the statute book as soon as possible.

However, in many other areas, we are unable to support the Government because they simply do not listen. They are all spin and no delivery. That was reflected in far too many comments made by the Secretary of State for Wales today. I am amazed that he did not claim credit for Welsh rugby--that he did not spin the news that, when Wales played England this year, Wales came second, which was tremendous news for Welsh rugby. He is all spin and no delivery, which is why many people are becoming increasingly fed up with the Government.

Last Thursday saw two by-elections. One was in the constituency of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), now present; the seat was retained by the Conservatives. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) is looking rather shifty. There was a by-election in his constituency in which the seat was retained by the Conservatives with a swing of 12.5 per cent.

Mr. John Smith: I take offence at that remark uttered in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman is being highly disingenuous. He knows well that the by-election in my constituency arose in extremely unusual circumstances, not the least of which was the tragic death of an old friend of mine--politics apart--Councillor Ray Davies.

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