Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Murphy: It was a nice intervention, if too long, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments, and I obviously agree that it is very important to regenerate our communities following the loss of jobs in the steel industry. That is why next week, we and the Welsh national party should debate how to regenerate the Welsh economy. That is much more important than the old rubbish about which we have been hearing.

Denzil Davies (Llanelli): I do not want to prolong the debate on the Mittal affair, which I presume will continue next week, but regardless of misgivings that might exist, does my right hon. Friend agree that the argument that we have just heard—that because Mr. Mittal purchased a Romanian steelworks, it is in direct competition with Corus—is one of the weakest? If Usinor, the French company, had purchased that steelworks, it would still be in direct competition with Corus. Similarly, a steelworks in Slovakia that a major American company bought is now in direct competition with Corus.

Mr. Murphy: I agree. Of course, those who work in the steel industry in south Wales could argue that the greatest threat to it was the original merger with a Dutch company.

Dr. Julian Lewis rose

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) rose

Mr. Murphy: Given that we shall discuss the matter next week, and given that many right hon. and hon. Members want to speak to the debate, it is wise to move on.

Mr. Llwyd rose

Mr. Murphy: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Llwyd: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I hear what he says and I am sure that his comments about the packages that were put forward are accurate. However, the truth is that it was common knowledge for some 18 months to two years beforehand that Corus was losing billions of pounds. Where were the Government then?

Mr. Murphy: As the hon. Gentleman knows, Corus had been telling us repeatedly for many months that the biggest problem it faced was the exchange rate. It subsequently changed its mind somewhat, but that is what it said for months and months. Then it said that the problem was capacity, and then it said that the problem was something else. Who knows what the ultimate problem was? As the hon. Gentleman knows—I have reported the matter to the House before—I attended the relevant meetings and the Government did all that they

28 Feb 2002 : Column 870

could to ensure that the industry remained in south Wales. Indeed, the steel unions themselves acknowledged that fact.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Murphy: No, I really must move on. As I told the hon. Gentleman, 1,000 people who work in the steel industry in my constituency have lost their jobs—we will talk about that on Tuesday—and that is probably 1,000 more than have lost jobs in his constituency. Those issues will be discussed in greater detail in the debate that Plaid Cymru has called for next week, and the hon. Gentleman and others can make their points then.

As many Members wish to speak, I shall conclude by discussing the functioning of the House of Commons and the way in which the devolution settlement works with the procedures of the House to ensure that the 40 Members representing Welsh constituencies, along with others who take an interest in Welsh matters, can affect the lives of Welsh women and men.

In the years since the setting up of the National Assembly, we as a Parliament and a Government have worked with it to produce measures of enormous significance to Welsh people. For example, the fact that we have the first children's commissioner in the United Kingdom is a direct result of our working with the Assembly and across parties. The Assembly is using Education and Learning Wales—ELWa—to transform post-16 education and lifelong learning in Wales. That initiative is the result of legislation that this Parliament and this Government passed, in conjunction with the National Assembly.

We gave the Assembly in Wales the functions of the National Care Standards Commission in England; we gave the local government ombudsman the power to investigate alleged misconduct of councillors; we enabled the Assembly to administer the system governing the conduct of councillors—and so on. In this Session, we are dealing with the health service and the education service in Wales through primary legislation, and some of my hon. Friends and other Members have taken part in those debates. The House of Commons is working with the Assembly to change the face of those services.

After Easter, draft health legislation for Wales will hopefully be published and will come before us for consideration. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales twice visited the National Assembly to talk to the relevant health and education committees about dealing with the scrutiny of legislation. When that legislation comes before us, the House of Commons and the National Assembly will have their own ways through which they can scrutinise it for the benefit of Welsh people. To that can be added the good work of the Welsh Affairs Committee, the Welsh Grand Committee and the many other ways in which Members of Parliament can help to improve the lives of Welsh people through this place.

Let no one therefore say that Welsh Members of Parliament have no role to play in improving the lives of the people whom we represent jointly with members of the Assembly. It is that partnership—team Wales, one might call it—between a Labour Government and a Labour-led Assembly that has alone led to enormous change in the lives of our Welsh people in the past

28 Feb 2002 : Column 871

five years. It is because of those policies that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore was returned with such a good majority. Devolution itself would not have happened under any party but the Labour party. If it were not for the Labour party, there would be no Assembly and we would not have objective 1. [Interruption.] Now we will hear what the Liberal Democrats intend to do.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I should point out to the Minister, who doubtless made a slip of the tongue, that the Liberals invented the concept of devolution. However, we were delighted that the Labour-led Government felt entitled to adopt that policy, and we will always be happy to lend our good policies to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.

Mr. Murphy: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention—indeed, his inventions, for they are many.

In addition to devolution and objective 1, we are helping old and young people. The Assembly has agreed much the best concessionary fares in the United Kingdom, and museum charges will be abolished so that our young people can visit all the museums in Wales. As a result of a Labour Government, we have the biggest ever police force in Wales, including in the Rhondda.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I agree that one of the most significant changes to tourism in south Wales was free entry to national museums, as applies in the rest of the United Kingdom. However, local authority-run museums such as the Rhondda heritage park are presented with a problem. People have to pay to visit such places while entry to Big Pit is free.

Mr. Murphy: I suppose that I should declare an interest, as Big Pit is in my constituency, but I shall certainly take the matter up with the relevant Minister in Cardiff.

The partnership between a Labour Government in Westminster and a Labour-led Assembly in Cardiff has resulted in a quality of life for Welsh women, men and children that is infinitely better than it has been for 100 years. Wales is now a more civilised, compassionate, caring, prosperous and democratic place in which to live and work.

2.39 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): It is always a joy to take part in the St. David's day debate, and I heard what the Secretary of State had to say about my predictions in the last one. He had no willpower and could not resist rubbing my nose in them. He also told the House that he is ready, wad in pocket, to rush down to the bookies on any prediction that I care to make to bet the other way. I shall make only one prediction today: Wales will beat Italy in the rugby international on Saturday. I can see the headlines now—"Secretary of State for Wales backs Italy in international against Wales". Shocking.

Lembit Öpik: The headline will surely be, "The hon. Member for Ribble Valley destroys Wales's chances of winning".

Mr. Evans: I will allow the hon. Gentleman that intervention, if—I hope—no other in the rest of the debate.

28 Feb 2002 : Column 872

I join the Secretary of State in congratulating the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who fought a valiant campaign during a wet three weeks in Ogmore. We all got drenched—some more than others—but I welcome him to the House. We look forward to his maiden speech, if he can catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I also endorse the Secretary of State's comments about Sir Ray Powell. We all remember Ray with nostalgia. I was a great supporter of his and I remember the collection of the daffs. He was also the accommodation Whip and if he took a dislike to anyone, it was some time before they moved from a desk in a corridor. Indeed, Ken Livingstone had to wait a long time before he got a room from Ray Powell.

I see that many Labour Members are sporting daffodils. I remember that when I was at Dynevor school with my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis)—several years apart, I hasten to add—some of us would wear leeks on St. David's day, instead of daffodils. I was amused to note, although it is a serious issue, the latest ruling from the European Union on the standardisation of leeks. I was aghast when I read it, because we used to wear leeks of all shapes and sizes. We as consumers were king, and I declare an interest as someone with a retail business in Swansea that sells many a leek.

Leeks will be classified as from tomorrow, which is the final insult. If it had happened on 1 April, I could have understood it better. They will be classified into two classes. The regulations state that leeks in class I must be

I always thought that the growing of leeks was God's work but now the EU has come to his aid with some useful advice on the growing and selling of leeks.

Next Section

IndexHome Page