|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Flynn: I thought of making a speech in Chaucerian English, although I shall not do so on this occasion. Such a speech would be understood by no one, but presumably it would be in order. It is an outrage that tonight we shall again refuse to pass a motion allowing Welsh to be spoken in the House. It is a continuing insult to our heritage. I should be very surprised to learn that there is a Hansard reporter present who can understand the simple words of Welsh that are used here, and that is another disgrace that should be put right. My earlier remarks will no doubt appear as "Interruption" in Hansard. That is a great shame, but I certainly will not translate that, or anything I say in other languages, for Hansard reporters.
A great community in the Celtic areas of Britain is under threat. It was under threat for years, and the threat is now returning. We have a real problem with people who do not speak the language. Many people arrive full of good will, with a sense of the importance of our culture and of learning the language, and for the first time the tide is turning. There has been a continuing story of decline, but we are now cherishing these languages, and the links between the countries concerned are strong.
The strands that kept us together--there was one community 3,000 years ago--are being rediscovered. Those links are building. We shall see the positive development of the Celtic nations forming a council of the islands, a Celtic council, for identity. It will be rich and will mean that our children will regain our nations. The Irish used to talk about Sinn Fein--ourselves alone. Now we as Celtic nations can talk about Sinn el Ceile--ourselves together.
Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): May I begin by talking about the crisis in agriculture? Although there are no foot and mouth cases in my constituency at the moment, 280 farms in my constituency are badly affected, as are the abattoir and market at St. Asaph. My heart goes out to my farmers, as does my hand. I will work with them closely to do what I can as a constituency Member to help them in their plight.
I am pleased that agrimoney has been provided by the Government and that they reacted rapidly. As soon as the crisis was announced, they took steps to stop the movement of animals throughout the country. As a result, the number of cases of foot and mouth remains at 70 and not 700. I am pleased, too, that the farming unions and, dare I say it, the Opposition have co-operated. They have not been oppositional during the crisis but quite constructive, which makes a change.
What have the Government achieved for young people in my constituency in the past three and a half or four years? For the first time ever, we have a college in the constituency: Rhyl college. That offers a ladder of opportunity--the ladder of education--to young people. I am pleased that the college will be expanded from 1,800 part-time places to 5,500 part-time places over the next five years. Indeed, there are to be outposts in Prestatyn and Denbigh. That has occurred under a Labour Government.
Young people in my constituency have had the new deal. Under the previous Government, young people were alienated, hounded and marginalised. Under Labour, they have been included and are at the centre of our policies. I am proud that we have introduced a windfall tax on the utilities to pay for the new deal to get young people back to the centre of society.
I ask my hon. Friends to consider what would happen to those colleges and to the new deal in my constituency if the Conservative Opposition were to get in. Where would the £24 million worth of cuts fall in my constituency? Would they fall on the college and on the new deal?
In 1985, 5,000 pensioners froze to death at home, not from coughs, colds or pneumonia, but from hypothermia. The advice to pensioners from the Minister at the time, Edwina Currie, was to buy some extra woollen clothes at second-hand shops and sit in the dark at home to avoid getting cold. Let us compare and contrast that with what we have done on the issue of cold weather. We have given pensioners £200 a year, bang in the middle of winter,
Six thousand pensioners in my constituency are benefiting from free television licences. There are also free bus passes. Next year, there will be a free bus service in the constituency. The Conservatives propose dental and eye test charges. We have abolished those. The Conservatives introduced VAT on fuel at 8 per cent. and wanted to raise it to 17.5 per cent. We stopped them and the Labour Government have reduced VAT on fuel to 5 per cent.--the lowest in the whole of Europe.
One matter that has not been emphasised in our debate so far--I have been in the Chamber for almost four hours today--is how much the poorest pensioners will benefit from our changes. In 1997, they were on £68 per week, whereas, in April 2001, they will be on £92 per week. The minimum income guarantee is excellent news for the 3,000 pensioners in my constituency who will benefit from it.
Conservative Members' tax-cutting policies would make necessary £24 million of cuts in my constituency. Where would those cuts fall? Would the winter fuel allowance be safe? Would the minimum income guarantee be safe? Would free bus services be safe? Or would Conservative Members increase value added tax, as they have proposed? My constituents would like answers to those questions.
When he was the Secretary of State for Social Security, the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) tried to demonise young lone parents. He reminded us in his conference speech that he had a little list. We should compare and contrast his attitude to young lone mothers--which was the attitude of the previous Government--with ours.
We have a new deal for young lone mothers which has also been financed by the windfall tax. Conservative Members were prepared to let young mothers rot on the dole, but our working families tax credit has made work pay for those young women. Not only are they no longer on the dole--which costs each one of us--but they are back in work and paying taxes. We are therefore benefiting doubly from the tax credit. That makes sense to me, to other Labour Members and to the public. We have also increased maternity pay for young mothers.
Let us compare and contrast our action on child benefit with that of the previous, Conservative Government. They froze child benefit. We have not only unfrozen it, but increased it from £10.50 to £15 per week. Will that increase be safe if Conservative Members are returned to power? Will the children's tax credit be safe if the Conservatives are returned to office?
Child poverty increased threefold under the previous Government. In the past four years, Labour has taken 1.2 million children out of poverty, and we are well on track to achieve our goal of ending child poverty within 20 years. I think that we should do that within five years. If the Chancellor would like my advice on what he should announce on Wednesday, which I doubt, that would be it.
Let us also compare and contrast the previous, Conservative Government's action in my area with that of our Labour Government. In 1993, the Conservatives ended my area's assisted area status and the limited European help that we were receiving. In contrast, Labour
The St. Asaph business park in my constituency was built by the Conservatives, at a cost of £11.5 million. It was supposed to create 2,000 jobs, but it was empty for seven years and created only 100 jobs. Since Labour has been in power, the number of jobs at the park has increased to 1,100. We are delivering.
In 1993, unemployment in my constituency was between 4,000 and 5,000; it is now 1,200. Under the Conservatives, we had job losses at Shotton steelworks and at the Point of Ayr colliery. Under Labour, we have had job gains at BAE Systems, WTS (Holdings) Ltd. and the TRB car plant. In the Vale of Clwyd, we have had a 20 per cent. increase in our small and medium-sized enterprise base. I believe that all that would be threatened if the Conservatives ever got back into power.
Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): I want to use the few minutes available to me in this debate to be a spokesperson for the farming industry in my constituency. In an intervention on the Minister, I mentioned a short Welsh phrase, which I hope the Hansard reporters will include in the Official Report, and I shall translate it for them. It is, "Heb waith, dim iaith", which basically means, "Without work, there is no language." In my area of Wales, the rural economy and farming are vital to work and to the language of west Wales.
I spent two hours with the National Farmers Union in my constituency on Friday night. Farmers clearly say that they are grateful, on several counts, for what the Government have done for them. They are grateful to the Government for the agrimonetary compensation that they are providing. We hear much rhetoric from Conservative Members about agrimonetary compensation, but we must not forget--the farmers have not--that, when in government and when such money was available for our farmers in 1996 and 1997, they did not claim it. Farmers have no reason to believe that they would do so now.
Farmers are particularly grateful to the Government because they know that £129 million of the £157 million that they will receive in the latest round of agrimonetary compensation will come from the British taxpayer, because of the way in which those now on the Opposition Benches negotiated the Maastricht treaty. They are grateful to the Government for the swift action that they have taken, in partnership with the Welsh Assembly, to halt movements in the countryside to try to stem the spread of foot and mouth--an awful disease.
Farmers are also grateful to the Government for introducing the scheme for licensed animal movements today. I congratulate Pembrokeshire county council on its work. I know from a conversation with the council's environmental health department that it issued its first licence within two hours of those arrangements being implemented. They are also grateful to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for telling them that they can go ahead and graze cattle on set-aside land and for the fact that MAFF will fight their corner if any questions are asked about that in Europe.
I want to raise one or two small but specific points that are pertinent to my constituents. I hope that, if the Under-Secretary cannot deal with them now, he will at least discuss them with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The first point relates to ports. Already during this outbreak, foot and mouth has been identified at several sites on the United Kingdom mainland and in Northern Ireland. Farmers have considerable concerns about vehicles moving from Ireland to the United Kingdom. Vehicles leaving ports such as Rosslare are currently disinfected by the Irish Ministry of Agriculture and Food, at its expense. However, port operators have discretion over whether to disinfect vehicles that enter the United Kingdom from Ireland. Tim Johns--a member of Pembroke NFU--told me that he went to Fishguard yesterday, and 10 lorries came in direct from Irish abattoirs. Farmers are anxious that MAFF should take on board that important matter, perhaps making the disinfection of vehicles mandatory, rather than discretionary, at the expense of the port authorities.
Secondly, the over-30-months scheme was mentioned in last week's debate. I want to make a special plea for Pembrokeshire's farmers, who take a responsible attitude to maturing their cattle. They mature them on grass; they keep them for as long as they can and as near as possible to the 30-month limit. So many farmers are concerned that those cattle will go over the 30-month limit because of the restrictions on movement, and they will receive only the 30-month compensation, not the full market price.
We have heard today about direct costs and consequential losses. Farmers who have animals with the disease or that are considered to be dangerous contacts are compensated at full market value, but there is no compensation for consequential loss. I want to make the case that such losses are not consequential; they constitute different types of direct loss brought about, yet again, by the Conservative party's mismanagement of the BSE crisis. Those farmers stand to make a direct loss, just as though those animals had caught the disease. I ask the Minister to consider the issue in those terms.
Another problem is involved in the crisis. Farmers have already told us that prices have dropped, by 10p a kilo for beef and 20p for lamb, under the licence scheme. That is perhaps understandable for lamb, given the proportion of Welsh lamb that is exported, and exports have stopped, but there is no excuse for a drop in the price of beef, especially as we read in the newspapers that beef and other meat prices are set to double in the supermarkets. If we are not careful, someone will profit at the expense of our farmers. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will consider what the Government can do about that.
Journey times are another problem. Farmers have expressed concern because they understand--it has not been confirmed--that under the new licence arrangements the maximum journey times for getting animals to slaughter is four and a half hours. The journeys must include a detour around any infected area, which is creating massive problems in Pembrokeshire and in Cornwall and other areas of the west country. Will my hon. Friend clarify the arrangements for journey times, so that our farmers know what the position is?
Tack animals have already been mentioned. One farmer in my constituency has 150 cattle that are due to calve. They are currently on land where there are no milking facilities, which creates tremendous animal welfare problems. In another case, 400 sheep are on 8 acres that are separated from the main holding. Again, there will be major animal welfare problems if the issue is not addressed. As we progress, is there any possibility of allowing limited movements within a certain radius or within counties in unaffected areas?
Future policy on animal movements is another issue that has been raised. The National Farmers Union suggested that it would be sensible to set a 28-day limit during which animals could not be moved after they have been brought on to a farm. They would be kept there without being moved again, and any disease would manifest itself in that period. At the meeting, one farmer pointed out that he had bought sheep that had been on 11 different holdings in the previous two months. He did not know that until he had got them back to his farm.
There is an urgent need for MAFF to get the available payments to farmers as soon as possible. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has assured us that he will try to do that, but we have had that assurance before. Can we make absolutely certain that there will be no delay in getting the payments to our farmers? That is vital for them. They appreciate what the Government are doing, but I want an assurance, on behalf of Pembrokeshire farmers, that the payments will be made and that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary--in conjunction with the Assembly and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture--will do everything possible to help west Wales farmers in this difficult time.