Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Evans: I always welcome the hon. Gentleman's interventions. He is right in what he says about Ray's passing. None the less, the seat was won by the

5 Mar 2001 : Column 53

Conservatives with a total vote of 67 per cent. We shall miss the hon. Gentleman's characteristic interventions in debates after the general election, when Susan Inkin will take over from him.

I have been greatly entertained in the past few days by speculation about who is to run the Labour party's campaign in Wales. On 26 February, the Western Mail carried the headline "Hain carries flag but is he strong enough?" He might be the weakest link; the next day, the headline read "Murphy--not Hain--to spearhead election drive". In only 24 hours, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) was "slapped down" and put in his place.

On 26 February, the Western Mail said that Labour would turn to the hon. Member for Neath

It said

in the Vale of Clwyd--the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Mr. Ruane) is missing--and in Conwy. The hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) is also absent: both are probably in their constituencies campaigning. It is good to see other hon. Members whose constituencies were mentioned in the article in the Chamber today. They include the hon. Members for Monmouth and for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence), whose seats the hon. Member for Neath thinks will be lost by Labour. The hon. Gentleman also warns that the constituencies of Cardiff, North and Vale of Glamorgan might be lost to the Conservatives.

The hon. Gentleman did not give a comprehensive list, having missed out the constituencies of Clwyd, West and of Cardiff, Central, both of which we believe we will win. Nor was mention made of other seats that we believe we will get, including the Liberal Democrat seats of Brecon and Radnorshire and of Montgomeryshire, as well as Ynys Mon. No doubt, the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) is in his constituency today, leaving only three of the four Plaid Cymru Members present during a Welsh affairs debate that we have only once a year.

The Labour campaign might show itself willing to rob Peter to pay Paul, which brings me to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). He is the First Secretary and self-styled First Minister, which in Welsh is Prime Minister. As for the House, he is the First Secretary. He said:

Labour will not be given another chance at the general election.

Mr. Flynn rose--

Mr. Evans: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, who no doubt will want to apologise to the farming industry for some of the appalling and dreadful comments that he has made over the past few years.

Mr. Flynn: I direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to his parliamentary profile. It chronicles that when he stood in a by-election in Wales, the Conservative vote slumped from 9,000 to 5,000. It records his memorable remarks in 1992, when with confidence he forecast that at the next

5 Mar 2001 : Column 54

election the map of Wales would be bluer. Will he remind us what happened in 1992 and in 1997 to Conservative Members?

Mr. Evans: I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not want to address himself to his recent comments about farming, which is in such a plight.

I remember well the by-election that I fought in Pontypridd in 1989: the Conservatives went on to win the 1992 general election. We look forward to the next general election, whenever the Prime Minister decides to call it.

There is no doubt that the

I am sure that it agrees about that, and that there is

the Labour heartlands. I am sure that the Labour party would agree that that is so. It has

and it must open up its "style of politics". I am sure that it would agree with that as well. Labour needs


I assume that that refers to the general election that we are about to have. Labour Members have not intervened to attack that view because, of course, those--

Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): I notice that the hon. Gentleman missed my constituency from his list. It has not been in Conservative hands for more than 100 years.

On support for the Labour party, I remind the hon. Gentleman of an opinion poll that received little publicity last week. It was conducted by National Opinion Poll for HTV, and it gave Labour 52 per cent., Conservatives 19 per cent. and Plaid Cymru 14 per cent. It anticipated a general election result for the Labour party in 2001 almost identical to that in 1997.

Mr. Evans: I ask the hon. Gentleman to get real. The day before the referendum in Wales, we were told by the outcome of an opinion poll that it would be won by 2:1. Instead, it was won by 0.6 per cent. If the hon. Gentleman's belief in opinion polls gets him to sleep at night, and perhaps during the day as well, I am only too happy that he believes in them. We do not. We believe in the polls that have only recently taken place. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Vale of Glamorgan, where there was a swing of 12.5 per cent. to the Conservatives.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Given the potent intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and the subsequent challenge by my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), does my hon. Friend agree that it is shocking that the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) has still failed either to apologise for or to explain his calumny upon Welsh farmers in accusing them of exaggeration, distortions and plain untruths, and in suggesting that the

5 Mar 2001 : Column 55

suicide rate among them is attributable merely to the ready availability of shotguns? Should not his speech be the occasion for a frank apology?

Mr. Evans: I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) is able to speak in the debate. That will give him an opportunity to apologise for the views that he expressed on the "Today" programme, which I thought were appalling. An entire industry deserves an apology from him.

As I was saying, it is interesting that no Government Member condemned the remarks about the Labour party being in disarray.

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

Mr. Evans: In a moment, once I have finished this.

I quoted the words of the hon. Member for Neath himself, so it is not surprising that his responsibility for leading the campaign in Wales has rapidly been taken away from him. I shall now give way to the hon. Member for Newport, West who, I am sure, will wish to apologise.

Mr. Flynn: May I inform the hon. Gentleman that, as far as I know, I have never spoken on the "Today" programme about farming? However, I have talked about the farming crisis on many occasions. It is as well to remember that I would not withdraw a single word that I have said. The House should know that, on television yesterday, someone said that there were 10 farming suicides every week. Every suicide is a terrible tragedy for the family involved. However, that number is wrong, as there were 70 farming suicides last year--which is 70 too many. In the past four years of crisis, there have been fewer suicides than there were in each year of prosperity between 1989 and 1993.

It is disgraceful that Opposition Members and certain other people wish to turn personal tragedies into events that invite photo-opportunities. There is a crisis in the farming industry, but a sequence of misinformation has been given. I am happy to defend everything that I have said.

Mr. Evans: To remind the hon. Gentleman, his remarks were made on 22 March 2000 on "Farming Today" on Radio 4 and his comments on suicides appeared in Farmers' Weekly on 4 February 2000. I am sure that he will want to reflect on his words and perhaps apologise to the farming industry.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evans: I shall make a little more progress and, I promise, give way to the hon. Gentleman a bit later.

It is interesting that the Secretary of State made no reference to another matter. Should the nightmare happen and--if everyone can bear with me for a moment--incredible as it sounds, the Labour party wins the next general election, what would happen to the position of Secretary of State for Wales? This morning, I enjoyed a little tussle on Radio Wales with the Under-Secretary of State for Wales when we discussed what would happen

5 Mar 2001 : Column 56

after the election. We already know that an incoming Conservative Government will create the position of Secretary of State for Wales, and that that will not be merged with responsibilities for Scotland, England or Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State will have extra responsibility in recognition of the post-devolution position.

However, I was unable to get any guarantee whatever from the Under-Secretary of State for Wales that an incoming Labour Government would ensure that the position of Secretary of State for Wales would be retained. From the silence of the Secretary of State, I take it that the Government have already written it off, he is already looking to retire if the Labour party win the election and Wales will lose its voice in the Cabinet. All that I can say is that Wales will be the poorer after the election if Labour wins, given that the Secretary of State is not prepared to say that there will be a position of Secretary of State for Wales. It sounds as if he already has inside information that that position will be merged and that Wales will lose its separate and special voice.

Next Section

IndexHome Page