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Mr. Paul Murphy: I thought that the hon. Gentleman was tempting me. He knows that neither my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales nor I determine Cabinet positions; that is a matter for the Prime Minister. The hon. Gentleman is also aware that there are no plans to change the position of Secretary of State for Wales and that it is based firmly on the devolution settlement, which was voted on by the people of Wales. I am delighted, although rather bemused, by his conversion and U-turn to the new position, as his party has not held that view for some time. To me, the part-time position of Secretary of State that is proposed by the Conservative party is rather peculiar.
Mr. Evans: It is amazing that the Secretary of State says that the position is in the gift of the Prime Minister. I spoke to my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) about that position and we have now made our view clear. It is well known that the Labour party is looking seriously at merging England, Wales and Scotland together in a Ministry of the Union. Even worse is the rumour that the Minister responsible for that will be the Deputy Prime Minister--let us have one fright at a time. I am amazed that the Secretary of State for Wales has not even discussed the matter with the Prime Minister, or if he has discussed it, that the Prime Minister has not reassured him. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House--
Has the Secretary of State discussed with the Prime Minister the matter of a voice for Wales around the Cabinet table, with the post of Secretary of State for Wales not being merged into a general post for Scotland, Wales and England?
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is aware that there is a voice around the Cabinet table representing Wales--mine. That has been the case since the establishment of the role after devolution. Let me make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that, in the referendum and by the devolution settlement, the people of Wales indicated that there should
Mr. Evans: It looks likely that there will be no Secretary of State for Wales if there is a Labour Government after the general election. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot speak up for his own job around the Cabinet table, I wonder whether he can speak up at the Cabinet table for the jobs of other people in Wales.
Mr. Evans: I enjoyed sitting around the shadow Cabinet table last Wednesday. I look forward to sitting around the shadow Cabinet table in the future, and after the general election I look forward to sitting around the Cabinet table as Secretary of State for Wales or whichever position the leader of my party as Prime Minister asks me to take. At the next election--
So many people feel let down by the Government, although that is hard to believe from the speech that we heard from the Secretary of State. Students feel badly let down by the introduction of tuition fees and the disappearance of their grants. Pensioners feel let down, after the 75p increase that they were given last year. Motorists are now paying higher taxation on their fuel than in any other country in Europe, and petrol prices are among the highest in the world.
Stealth taxes have been imposed--on average, £670 a year for a family living in Wales. Council tax has increased well above the rate of inflation. The Government clearly do not understand the countryside or farming.
There are so many people who feel badly let down, but in no industry more than in farming. In 1996-97, the average income in the farming industry was £23,200. In 1998-99, it was £5,800 and it has now fallen below £5,000. The Welsh Institute of Rural Studies has predicted that the average net income will be £4,100. We have just heard a statement on the minimum wage. An average farm income of £4,100 represents £1 an hour for a farmer working 60 hours a week, and we know that most farmers do much more than that.
One in five farms is trading at a loss. There is a crisis in farming. Getting new entrants into farming is incredibly difficult. The average age of farmers is 58. In Wales, agriculture is vital, yet four fifths of the farming land is
On competence in farming and the question of who deserves an apology, the House should contrast the way in which the current Government have acted on the dreadful disease that is now affecting British agriculture with the way in which the previous Government acted on BSE. This Government have responded promptly, effectively and efficiently, whereas the previous Government did not act promptly and shamefully exported BSE around the world. When people in farming make that contrast, they will have no doubt about who understands farming.
Mr. Evans: I suspect that not one single farmer will support what the hon. Gentleman has just said. Who is playing politics with farming now? We have given full support to the Government on the measures that they have introduced to tackle foot and mouth disease. We did not get such support from the Labour party when it was in opposition. Instead, it cruelly used the issue of BSE.
Farmers are asking not for special treatment, but for equal treatment. That is what they will get with the implementation of "A Fair Deal for Farmers", which is part of the common-sense revolution package that will be delivered by an incoming Conservative Government. We shall carefully consider the standard of meat that is imported into this country and the need to ensure that products are clearly labelled. When the label says that a package contains Welsh meat, that is exactly what it should contain. We must ensure that fair and proper rules and regulations are in place and give full support to farming. Last year, 3,800 people left farming in Wales, while 20,000 people left it nationally. That came on top of the 20,000 people who left it the year before.
There was to be a rally for the countryside on 18 March this year. Its postponement was a big decision for the organisers. That decision could not have been easy, as the number of people who were coming to march in London on that day was well above the number who participated in the march that took place a few years ago. Although the rally will not now occur, the reasons for it remain. The Prime Minister must listen to the people who live and work in the countryside. It was amazing that any time was given to the Hunting Bill in the House last week, while the foot and mouth crisis was under way. It would have been far better to suspend such a debate at a time when the agriculture industry is in such deep crisis and to consider foot and mouth disease instead. Instead, an Opposition day had to be used for a full debate on the subject.
Will the Secretary of State ensure that the Minister of Agriculture comes regularly to the Dispatch Box to keep us informed about foot and mouth and the measures that he is taking to provide as much assistance as possible? Assistance should be given not only to farmers; as has been mentioned, it should be given to the line of other people who are involved in farming. Those affected will not necessarily be farmers, but may none the less have paid a heavy price.
I turn now to law and order. We had a Welsh Grand Committee debate on this subject only the other day, but it is right to stress again the law and order problems in Wales. In 1994, the number of incidents involving violence against the person was 13,478, but in 1999, there were 37,922 such incidents. That is an amazing increase. In 1997, the figure for robbery was 811; today it is 909. Total violent crime has increased from 20,000 in 1997 to 40,580 today. Those statistics are worrying; they affect everyone who lives in Wales. The Government should do something about that.