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6.30 pm

Ian Lucas (Wrexham): I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak, and to my comrades for allowing me three minutes in which I may ruin my political career.

I intend to make what I hope is a constructive proposal with regard to the relationship between the National Assembly for Wales and Westminster. My premise is that Wales and the United Kingdom are inextricably linked. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) has spoken already about the close links between north-east Wales and the north-west of England. It is clear that the future for north-east Wales, where there has been much prosperity, lies in working with the rest of the United Kingdom to take matters forward.

However, I am also a convinced devolutionist. I believe that we need to devolve as much power as possible to the different countries in the United Kingdom, and to the different regions. There are regions within Wales, and we need to think of devolution not as a nationalist matter but as a way of securing better government.

I believe that the way ahead is through the use of draft legislation. This Labour Government have successfully pioneered what most hon. Members agree is a good way of improving scrutiny. We need to consider more draft legislation, especially Bills relating to Wales that come to us prior to Second Reading. I think that all hon. Members would agree that those Bills need to be looked at more closely.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has already spoken about the National Assembly for Wales and Westminster looking at Bills in parallel. I do not see why there should be anything to prevent the National Assembly and hon. Members with Welsh constituencies from looking at draft legislation together in a Joint

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Committee. In that way, the people involved could present suggestions and discuss matters in a positive manner, before a Bill reached Second Reading.

I believe that it would be important for the discussion taking place at that stage that no vote would be held in such a Joint Committee. Proposals put forward by the Wales Office and the Welsh Assembly Government should be considered in a Joint Committee consisting of members of the Assembly and Members of Parliament. The opportunity to meet members of the Welsh Assembly in that way would be very positive, for us and—more importantly—for the people whom we represent.

If we are going to make devolution work, we must start a dialogue for the benefit of the people whom we represent. I believe that the proposal that I am floating is a starting point for discussion. I am a new Member and I want to try to make the situation better, which I think can be done. I would like hon. Members of all parties to talk about the issue and try to improve matters.

6.35 pm

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): I am making a guest appearance at the Dispatch Box tonight—perhaps I could use the phrase "famous for 12 and a half minutes". It is a delight to be back at the Dispatch Box at a time when Wales is doing better. That is nothing to do with the Secretary of State or the Government, because I am not talking about the Welsh economy, the health service, tourism or agriculture—not even a video referee could hide the Government's lack of progress in those areas. Incidentally, were it not for the video referee and the enthusiasm of Scott Quinnell, Wales would be going to Saturday's game against Italy one up and on their way to the six nations championship.

The Secretary of State referred with some glee to the general election result, but I must remind him that there was a 6 per cent. fall in the Labour vote in Wales. In his own constituency, there was a 5.25 per cent. swing to the Conservatives. The Labour vote in Wales fell by 220,000, or a quarter of the people who voted Labour in 1997. I remind the Under-Secretary, too, that the Conservative party is still, in electoral terms, the second party in Wales, with 50 per cent. more votes than the next party on the list.

Much of what the Secretary of State said was fairly predictable. Much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) had to say, by contrast, was very much to the point, especially what he said about the grotesque favouritism shown to Mr. Mittal's offshore activities at the expense of the Welsh steel industry.

The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths)—for the Secretary of State's benefit, there was a 4.05 per cent. swing to the Conservatives in that constituency—talked about the health service in Wales. I remind him of the Government's record: there are 4,000 people in Wales who have been waiting more than 18 months for treatment, and since 1997 there has been an 850 per cent. rise in the number waiting for their first appointment in an out-patients department.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) made an interesting, varied and sometimes wandering speech. He took the moral high ground, almost oblivious of the activities of the leader of his party in Wales—[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Perhaps I should make myself clear: I mean the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Welsh Assembly.

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The hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) made a worthy maiden speech, following his predecessor, Sir Ray Powell, although sometimes I felt that he may have pushed the limits of political controversy. He has succeeded an excellent Member of Parliament and I am sure that he, too, will serve the people of Ogmore well.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) made some predictable points. He made serious points on objective 1, which I will come to in a moment, and then made a predictable plea for a larger block grant.

Mr. Llwyd: Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what the swing against the Conservatives was in my constituency?

Mr. Walter: Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman has got the better of me, but I should point out that I am still waiting for the bottle of champagne that I should have been awarded in the Adoption and Children Bill Standing Committee for the best pronunciation of his constituency by an Opposition Member.

I was delighted to hear from the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) that we have yet another Gower boy—the hon. Member for Ogmore in the House. The hon. Member for Gower made an impassioned speech on the problems of the cockle industry in the Loughor estuary, and I am now better informed on diarrhetic shellfish poisoning than I was at the beginning of the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) gave a clear and concise view of the Welsh economy, and discussed growth in Wales during a period of considerable change under a Conservative Government. I was particularly impressed by his commitment to the small business sector; and in pointing to the divergence of the English and Welsh economies he highlighted the different policies on business rates.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones), who is Chairman of the Select Committee, talked about the plight of Wrexham and the potential for city status, and about university status for the North East Wales institute. At one stage, I thought that he was going to ask for a new underground system and international airport for Wrexham. I was concerned about his point about bias on S4C. I am not sure that I have ever noticed bias. Certainly, I, an English-speaking MP, have been included on its programmes. I have always admired its tremendously helpful coverage outside Wales, particularly its Saturday evening club rugby programme, even if the subtitles are about two minutes behind the action.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) made a good speech on the interaction between the environment and industry, and strayed into the subject of wind farms and renewable energy. As always, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) spoke with passion on women's policy and prisons policy. The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) made an old-fashioned nationalist—socialist, even—contribution, but he gave a very good trailer for next week's "Mittalgate" debate, which we await with interest.

The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) made a good speech on urban renewal. Uncharacteristically, he did not mention the Tories once, which was a refreshing and intelligent development. My hon. Friend

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the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) told us of the fate of his daffodil, for which the Liberal Democrats were, I think, responsible. None the less, he gave a key speech on crime and the fears of ordinary people. His plea for better policing and use of the specials was very welcome.

The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) struggled to say something positive about employment in his constituency under a Labour Government. I am afraid that the speeches by the hon. Members for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams), for Caerphilly (Mr. David), for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard), for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) and for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) were somewhat curtailed by the numbers who wanted to speak.

Two factors have dominated the past year in Wales, one of which must be foot and mouth disease. Some 118 farms were devastated by confirmed outbreaks, but the impact was far wider, affecting the entire agricultural sector and the communities in which those farms are located. We all know about the number of goats, pigs, cattle and sheep that had to be slaughtered. That was bad enough, but the businesses that depend on those farms and on agriculture have suffered as a result of the disease, as has tourism throughout Wales. As we maintain calls for a ban on substandard imports into this country, there must also be a very real effort to ensure that we hold a public inquiry into the entire foot and mouth outbreak.

The second factor is the economy, which we discussed. Other hon. Members spoke about job losses and manufacturing, and many spoke about objective 1 money. It is right that we should continue to say, as I have said before, that no new United Kingdom Treasury money was committed to objective 1. There was new European money, but the other money had to come from existing budgets. Now we are witnessing a very slow development of objective 1. The notion that inertia has gained its own momentum takes on new meanings when it comes to the allocation of objective 1 money. After two years, business in Wales is exasperated and frustrated that less than 3 per cent. of the allocated funds has been spent.

By the next St. David's day debate the focus will be on the National Assembly elections, and the people of Wales will be able to pass judgment on a second term of Labour Government in London and the cosy Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition in Cardiff. It will be a judgment on the National Assembly building, a judgment on Corus and Mittal, a judgment on education in Wales, a judgment on foot and mouth, a judgment on crime and a judgment on the national health service in Wales. I will make no predictions—[Hon. Members: "No!"]—but I can tell the House that, as far as the people in Wales to whom I speak are concerned, time is running out for Labour in Wales.

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