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The Irish Times predates the Irish economic recovery that exercises all our minds and on which Plaid Cymru is trying to base most of its policies. I read recently in the Irish Times that Ireland is now crawling with economists who are trying to find out the reasons for Ireland's economic resurgence and success. They have not found them yet, but there are many reasons and I doubt whether most of them can be applied to Wales with the different structure of its economy in which the industrial revolution, among other things, played its part.
One reason why Ireland has done quite well may be the cultural sophistication, especially in terms of the English language, that it has shown in an age of communication. One of my Irish friends told me that he thought that the main reason for that goes back to the 1960s and to the education reforms of the Irish Prime Minister at that time, Sean Lemass. I am not an expert on British education and I am certainly not an expert on Irish education, so I do not understand the reasons for Ireland's success. However, I am old fashioned enough to believe that education--especially at secondary level--might be the answer to rebuilding the economic base of those of our communities that have suffered.
Secondary education in Wales is like secondary education in much of Britain: it is good in parts, bad in parts and the rest is middling. I have considered the league tables that The Times and other newspapers have published--no doubt, they are not always accurate--but I am delighted to see one or two Welsh schools in the first 50 on the lists. Let us be brutal: we do not see many Welsh schools in the first 50, but it is good to see them when they are there. My impression is that certain areas of education in Wales do not match the best in England, Scotland or Ireland, and the education in those countries does not always equal the best in some continental countries such as those in Scandinavia, including Finland. A small country such as Wales could learn a lot from what happens in education there.
Recently, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister published a Green Paper. Like all Green Papers, parts of it were criticised and others were welcomed, but I believe that it contained many good ideas. A good case was made for some form of specialisation and for some specialised schools and units, even though much work needs to be done to flesh out the policy and to work out the practicalities.
However, I was disappointed when I read on Ceefax that the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning in the Assembly in Cardiff has apparently rejected out of hand the proposals in the Green Paper. Perhaps second thoughts have prevailed and things are different now, so perhaps I am being unfair to her. If I am, I apologise. None the less, I got the impression from the report that the Green Paper's proposals had been rejected almost out of hand.
Just as it was silly before devolution for Wales to follow slavishly what went on in England, it is also absurd after devolution to reject out of hand any proposals that might apply to England. We must try as far as we can--none of us is wholly objective--to assess as rationally as possible ideas when they are proposed. We might reject some because they are not applicable, but we should accept those ideas that we think we can apply.
For certain subjects, we must consider the notion of creating centres of excellence or special units so that we can lift the qualify of education in those subjects. Sciences and mathematics are a case in point. A recent report from the Select Committee on Science and Technology said that science and mathematics education in Britain was woeful and did not offer industry the type of graduates that it wanted.
It has been suggested that we cannot have special schools and units in Wales because we have a large rural hinterland and rural children could not travel to the special units. However, it is perfectly possible to provide sleeping
Mr. Simon Thomas: I do not disagree with many of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, but does he agree that, in rural areas, we should take the opportunity to create a stronger and much more practical link between sixth forms and the colleges of education that already provide distance learning and high-quality courses, especially in west Wales? Colleges and schools must work much more closely together in the way that he advocates.
Mr. Davies: Indeed, that can be done. Agenda, a television production company in my constituency, not only produces television programmes but has internet technology that is as good as anything that can be found in Seattle. The company can do such work. Let us not put up barriers. It is possible to create centres of excellence--using either technology or clusters of institutions--where people can be educated.
Dr. Julian Lewis: I agree with the general thrust of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about excellence in Welsh schools. However, does he not agree that it is rather sad that, over a 20-year period, we have come full circle? After the destruction of so many good state schools and grammar schools in Wales, we now recognise the need to reinvent specialist schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and I both went to the same state grammar school in Swansea that my father went to in the 1920s. That school went downhill after its grammar school status was removed and now it is closing. Is that not rather sad?
Mr. Davies: I am a product of West Wales grammar school, but I do not take a romantic view of our school days. There were some good grammar schools and some very bad ones. The 11-plus was not a very successful mechanism; it left many children behind. Rather than looking romantically to the past, we must realise that in a modern world, in which there are global pressures on prices and costs, we must be up there with the highest global standards in education. If we are not, we shall not attract investment. We need some kind of specialisation--certainly in science and mathematics--to enable us to do that. I would argue for that, and I do not think that we should reject ideas out of hand simply because they appear in a Green Paper that technically applies only to England.
The story is not entirely gloomy. There is considerable growth in many areas. For instance, Cardiff is a successful city. I hope that people there realise that much of its wealth comes from the massive public expenditure on its economy. As a result, there are public servants, who get paid reasonably well, and professional firms of solicitors, accountants and management consultants who feed off it. I do not know how much actual wealth creation has occurred, and that is what is important if we are to lift the economy.
Mr. Michael: My right hon. Friend makes some fair points. Cardiff's productivity decreased considerably when the steel works closed and it experienced the problems that many other constituencies are experiencing now. However, there is another side to the argument.
Mr. Davies: I was not arguing a different case. However, the gap is even wider in Ireland, where there is a fear that, within the next 20 years, half the population of southern Ireland will live in Dublin or its suburbs. There is a problem. Obviously, we cannot denude Cardiff to help somewhere else, but we must recognise that it has received massive public expenditure.
We need public money, but the economic hurricane that has hit Wales in the past 20 or 30 years has caused tremendous social and cultural problems. We must try to return to the virtues of cultural excellence and the attainment of intellectual rigour, without which we will not rebuild those communities.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I warmly associate myself with the tributes to the late Lord Cledwyn, who was one of the greatest Welshmen of his generation. As we have heard, he was an extremely able and honest politician. In my early years, I also knew him as an able lawyer. He will be a great loss to Wales and to Parliament. I also associate myself with what the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said about Mr. Ian Spratling. Members of the Welsh Affairs Committee met him recently and found him to be a doughty fighter for the underprivileged. He will be greatly missed.
As for the skirmishes between the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and the Secretary of State about the mythical television punch-up that might appear from the ether, if it takes the hon. Member for Ribble Valley an hour to say what he did, a series of debates will be needed.
On miners' compensation claims, I welcome wholeheartedly the Government's recent announcement. The change in direction will mean that there will be no deduction when compensation is paid to widows. Indeed, I called for that measure in a debate on 6 February, to which the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe responded. However, three or four issues are outstanding. I hope that my comments will be constructive.
We need more medical staff. I know that there may be a paucity of them in some areas, but it is my honest opinion that they should be drafted in and, if necessary, taken off elective work so that the claims can be processed quickly. The Department of Trade and Industry's predictions have never been met, but matters are improving.