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Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): The hon. Gentleman's argument does not allow for the fact that a number of public sector projects over the years have been over-budget and overdue; not just the Jubilee line, which was the most recent case, but a stream of hospital projects. The 39 hospital projects now using private finance initiative money are not in that realm at all. If we were not to recruit expertise from the private sector--which the hon. Gentleman seems to oppose--a large part of the Government's planned investment would go down the drain in wasteful and inadequately managed projects where the risks were not shared adequately with the private sector.

Matthew Taylor: I challenge the hon. Gentleman to come up with authoritative studies that support his position, because all but one have shown that money has been wasted by going down the PFI route. The IPPR report does not even attempt to defend the use of PFI. We know full well that public sector projects may sometimes overrun, but so undoubtedly do those in the private sector; the channel tunnel link is the most damning example of them all. However, if the hon. Gentleman is confident of his position, I am sure that he will agree that it is important that we test it against proper comparators and with the proper exposure of figures. The Treasury has not made the comparators public, nor has it been willing to publish the evidence.

Mr. Beard: When the Treasury Committee looked into the matter, we had before us an analysis by Arthur Andersen that showed a range of different projects--both IT and construction projects--for which the average saving was 17 per cent., compared with the public sector comparator. The evidence appears to have been dismissed by the hon. Gentleman.

Matthew Taylor: The answer is that I made the exception of that one study. The Andersen study is always the one quoted by the Government, but it was based on expected savings and not on those achieved. Those savings were often not delivered, as subsequent reports on these projects have shown. If the Government are so confident of their position, why do they not make the information on the comparators available? They hide behind commercial confidentiality; it is hard to see how the public sector comparator could be a matter of commercial confidentiality.

Geraint Davies: The hon. Gentleman should know that a number of studies by the National Audit Office were reported to the Public Accounts Committee, which has a summary of them, and show that a large number of the PFI projects do work.

Matthew Taylor: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that although a series of reports have been published, the Government always quote the Arthur Andersen report because it is the only one to support their position. The survey was based on expected savings, rather than delivered savings.

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Do not get me wrong; I am not arguing that there is never a role for the private sector. However, just as in the past--when the Conservative party made the mistake of believing that privatisation was always right, no matter what--we now see Labour Front Benchers going down the same route; arguing without being willing to show the public sector comparator that the use of private finance is a benefit. Indeed, they distort the position on the "Today" programme and elsewhere by pretending that they are making available new money, rather than spending Government money in a different way that can be judged only on the basis of whether it delivers better services.

There is one final point that I want to make. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I have probably spoken too long for Labour Members and for the Deputy Speaker. However, my final point was not touched on by the IPPR. Labour Members ought to look at the report if they seriously believe that there are no real problems with delivery; there are, and the Government must address them. One area, however, is scarcely touched on by the IPPR and it is the area about which we in this place should be most concerned: accountability.

There is real concern about people's ability to have a real say over how their public services are delivered and developed when the process is taken out of the hands of publicly accountable authorities. That is particularly so, given the appalling record in the public sector of setting contracts in terms that protect the public when the private sector is brought in. We have heard of everything from the selling on of contracts at huge profit--which can only mean huge losses to the taxpayer or that we are forgoing funding for improvements that might otherwise have been made in the public sector--through to hospitals suddenly finding that their patients are being charged for services that were forgotten about in the contracts. PFI hospitals that even charge people for receiving incoming telephone calls are just the tip of an iceberg of Government ineffectiveness in using the private sector effectively in public services.

This may be the defining issue of this Parliament, not least because the Government may duck the euro issue, and it will be fundamental to the future of our public services. Those, mostly on the Labour Benches, who believe in the importance of public services and in a national health service and a national education system that guarantee high quality to every child and every patient will know that getting this issue right would mean great improvements in public services. However, getting it wrong could mean that we lose the argument to the Conservative party for ever. Therefore, I say that they must tread carefully.

5.58 pm

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I realise that pride comes before a fall, but I stand with some considerable pride as the new Member of Parliament for Rhondda. I am proud for two reasons. First, Rhondda is the only seat in the country to have been represented by a Labour man ever since the constituency was created and miners were first allowed to vote, in 1885. Secondly, for any Welshman, the Rhondda is the epitome of our industrial heritage and takes a special place in the hearts of all Labour men and women, especially those from Wales.

My predecessor, Allan Rogers, took a similar pride in representing Rhondda, something he did for 18 years. I know that many hon. Members will agree that Allan was

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a persistent and determined representative of the people of Rhondda and a committed and loyal parliamentarian. He was a Member of this House through the toughest of years for mining communities and most of his time was spent on the Opposition Benches, yet his work as shadow Defence spokesman during the Gulf war, on the Security and Intelligence Committee and in the Inter-Parliamentary Union won him respect and friendship from Members across the House. I pay tribute to him.

There are those who have said, however, that I am scarcely the stereotypical Member of Parliament for the Rhondda, with its macho image and non-conformist tradition. Apart from anything else, I am, thanks to the now repealed House of Commons (Clergy Disqualification) Act 1801, the first Anglican priest to take a seat in this House for 200 years and the last person ever to have resigned his orders under the Clerical Disabilities Act 1870--a recondite piece of legislation that has also now been repealed. It is, I suppose, no surprise that my career has been referred to as more of a Daily Mail headline than a curriculum vitae.

Most of the stereotypes concerning the Rhondda are inaccurate. Contrary to public perception, the Rhondda is not one valley but two--the Rhondda Fach and the Rhondda Fawr. Its two rivers no longer flow black with coal dust but have herons and wild mallards nesting there. I am sure that Ferndale rugby football club will forgive me for saying that our most successful sports team in recent years is not a rugby team but Britain's premier women's basketball team, the Rhondda Rebels.

The arts have played a central part in the Rhondda's heritage. Not everyone in the Rhondda sings, although we have at least three truly first-class male choirs--the Treorchy, Meibion and Pendyrus. Nor does everyone play in a brass band, although we have the best brass band in the country. That is not a vulgar boast but a simple statement of incontrovertible fact, as the Cory band, formerly the Ton Temperance band, is not only the British brass band national champion but the British open champion. This is the only time that both titles have been held by one band at the same time.

The Rhondda's most famous son was neither a Labour leader nor a rugby player, but an actor. The star of "The Guns of Navarone", "Zulu", "The Cruel Sea" and the rather ambitiously named "Sodom and Gomorrah" was one Stanley Baker, who was born in Ferndale and died, aged 49, in 1976, only a month after having been knighted. His ashes are scattered on Old Smokie, the tip behind my house.

Like all the south Wales valleys, the Rhondda is often portrayed by the London media as parochial and xenophobic. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Rhondda has always welcomed strangers and foreigners. After Paul Robeson's visit to the Parc and Dare theatre in Treorchy many years ago, he was made an honorary Welshman. Thanks to the influx of Italians from the village of Bardi, I suspect that we have more Italian cafes in the Rhondda than in Kensington and Islington combined.

As for political myths, Conservative Members--the few that there are--will be delighted to know that there are many Conservative clubs in the Rhondda. It was said that if everyone who drank in a Conservative club in the Rhondda voted Conservative, the seat would have been Tory for 150 years. I am delighted to say that the people of the Rhondda stick to just drinking Tory.

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One stereotype about the Rhondda is, sadly, true. Ever since steam coal was first found in Dinas in the 19th century and the Klondike rush for black gold began, the Rhondda has suffered significant social problems. Many of the most deprived wards in Wales are in the Rhondda. Although unemployment has fallen dramatically under Labour--from 13.9 per cent. in 1997 to 7.9 per cent. and going down today--still far too many people are unable to work. Ill health, especially in the form of chronic conditions such as aeschemic heart disease and diabetes, are a modern plague. For too many households, the only income comes from the benefit system. Four in five people in the Rhondda own their own home but many of those houses suffer from terrible damp and are, frankly, unfit for human habitation. Drug abuse, especially heroin, claims an enormous clutch of lives every year.

Where do the solutions lie? First, the Rhondda relies on a Government who are committed to sound finances and to combating unemployment. It depends on a Government who are committed to a minimum wage. I particularly welcome the commitment to increasing the minimum wage for young people. The new deal has made a dramatic difference to hundreds of young people whom I have met in the past year.

Secondly, the Rhondda is not unique in being a geographically hemmed-in community. Like others, we need the infrastructure that makes employment and new businesses a possibility. We need both traditional infrastructure, in the shape of roads--most notably a relief road for the Rhondda Fach--and modern infrastructure, in the shape of high-speed wide-band access. One of the most successful recent ventures in the Rhondda is the Pop Factory, a television and new media studio based in the old Corona factory. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members remember the advertisement about every bubble having passed its fizzical. This and other ventures need the Government to ensure the fastest possible roll-out of broad-band services. The new economy must be for the whole country, not just for a few.

Thirdly, we need a real assault on the causes of chronic ill health, including alcohol and drug addiction, so that more people want a job and are able to hold one down. Incidentally, many of the Rhondda's health problems are still the legacy of the mines. Although I recognise the significant steps that the Government have taken to hurry through miners' compensation, no Labour Government can rest until justice is truly and finally done to all our miners, their widows and dependants.

Fourthly, we need a new spirit of enterprise so that young people do not spend their last year at school wondering where they will be signing on but when they will be starting their first job. I heartily welcome the Government's declared aim of seeing more than 50 per cent. of young people going on to university, but I urge Ministers to do everything in their power to remove any obstacles that prevent young people from poorer communities and families from going on to college.

The people of the Rhondda are not looking for handouts. People simply want a chance to stand on their own two feet, to build a decent life for their family and to retire in dignity. These are honourable aspirations, and my constituents still look to politicians to make a real

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difference by waging an all-out assault on the pernicious and often seemingly intractable causes of poverty. Those aspirations are what democratic politics is all about. That is why I believe that the democratic system is so important.

It is not for a newcomer to lecture the House on its practices, but one of the reasons for young people--and, for that matter, not so young people--failing to take an interest in politics is, I believe, because the way in which the House does its business is still incomprehensible to the majority of the population. They hear of a debate and a hefty majority vote in Parliament to ban foxhunting, for instance, and presume that that is the end of the matter. They do not understand why it still has not become law. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to make significant progress on further reform in this House. However, the system is often not as complicated as people think. I was telephoned the other day by someone from a Minister's office who asked whether I would care to come and meet the Minister for tea. When I recounted this to my largely unpolitical partner, he replied, "I didn't know there was a Minister for Tea. Can I be Minister for Scones?"

Before I finish, I wish to refer to the first Member of Parliament for the Rhondda, William Abraham. He devoted his first speech, in 1886, to arguing for the disestablishment of the Church in Wales. Mabon, as he was known, said that the Church of England had entirely failed to meet the requirements of the people of Wales. In the spirit of his words, I am delighted that the Queen's Speech includes a commitment to complete the process of reform of the second Chamber, but I still find it difficult to comprehend why it is the exclusive preserve of the Church of England's Bench of Bishops to provide spiritual advice in this place. I believe that Britain would be far better served by a fully secular state, and that the Church of England's political contribution would be far stronger were the Church to be fully and genuinely independent. If we are to retain the Lords Spiritual-- I say "if" because I would prefer a fully elected second Chamber--surely they should include representatives of all the faiths and denominations.

In conclusion, the socialism that I espouse is based on some simple moral facts. The market was made for humanity, not humanity for the market. Poverty is not a mysterious dispensation from on high, but has very human causes and is susceptible to human remedies. Inequality gnaws at the moral fabric of society. I refer the House to the words of a former Member of this House who was also a priest in the Church of England, although in a different order from my own. As John Donne said:

I welcome the Queen's Speech, because it expresses that same belief in hard, practical and pragmatic measures, to ensure a strong and stable economy and to improve public services--measures that give new hope to the people of the Rhondda.

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