Government's Legislative Programme

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Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Albert Owen) in his maiden Welsh Grand Committee speech. Ynys Mon is one of my favourite parts of Wales, along with Ceredigion, Brecon and Radnor and a number of other areas that the Conservative party hopes to take at the next general election. I am delighted to be here at the Welsh Grand Committee after our little hiccup last week. We are now back to full strength, but I am sad that no Conservative represents a Welsh seat. Our vote increased as a percentage at the election to 21 per cent. It would have been right if at least some of those votes could have translated into representation at Westminster but we accept the verdict of the electorate. We are still the second party of Wales, clearly beating Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats. We shall look again at those issues that affect the people of Wales and rethink our strategy in time for the next general election.

I should also like to welcome you, Mr. Griffiths, to your post as Chairman of this Committee. As has been said, it is a mystery how it happens, but I am sure that it has been done for all the right reasons. We wish you well. I intend to be brief, as I know that a number of other hon. Members wish to contribute.

If Her Majesty had read just those parts of the Speech that could be said to benefit only the people of Wales, she would not have detained hon. Members for long. I have no argument with the Government's central objectives of

    ``economic stability, and investment and reform in public services, leading to a more prosperous and inclusive society.''

The key areas that the Government have looked at are education, health, crime and welfare. The hon. Member for Ynys Mon referred to the concentration in our campaign on saving the pound. He may believe that his constituents do not wish to save the pound, but I suspect that they do, but think that they will have an opportunity at a referendum to do just that and so were able to put that issue to one side. Those issues of education, health, crime and welfare are important to them.

One of the first measures mentioned is a Bill to reform education and

    ``to promote diversity and higher standards, particularly in secondary schools.''

Perhaps the Minister can tell us exactly what impact that will have on Welsh education. It is a devolved area but I assume that whole chunks of this legislation will have Welsh content. It will be interesting, in the light of what Her Majesty said later about the Government continuing to further the cause of devolution, to learn exactly what that Bill will do and what consultation will take place on it.

The Government intend to introduce legislation to reform the health services. There is a separate Bill for Wales; as the Speech states:

    ``Legislation will be drafted to reform the provision of health services in Wales.''

However, I assume that the other Bill will have Welsh import too.

First among the matters that I should like to talk about is the campaign by the South Wales Argus to protect hospital staff. Yesterday's edition talked about the abuse that national health service workers have to put up with almost daily. Under the headline ``Nurses Suffer Abuse'', it said:

    ``Gwent frontline hospital staff had to deal with a load of abuse in the last few days. The incidents occurred at Nevill Hall Hospital, Abergavenny''.

The article gives weight to its campaign for a system, similar to the one already announced in other areas, of giving a red card to people who abuse NHS staff. We all appreciate the dedication of those who work in the NHS. They do not do it for the money and must have a greater calling, but they should not have to put up with abuse from those who receive care from them. I hope that, in at least one piece of legislation, we can introduce measures that ensure that staff in NHS hospitals throughout Wales will be properly protected.

Will the Minister also respond to the announcement made today by Dr. John Chisholm at the British Medical Association conference? He is chairman of the committee that deals with general practitioners, who say that they have had enough. That follows a recent call from GPs, which said that, unless they see some changes, a number will simply leave the NHS. We cannot allow that. GPs are asking for more resources so that they can spend more quality time with their patients and provide better services. Better care was mentioned directly in the Queen's Speech, so how will the Government put into action the words that they have come up with? They can hear what those in the frontline services are saying, but it is pointless saying that the Government will deliver when they have not done so after four years.

I was not in Committee to hear what was probably an excellent speech by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), but he was right to say that the Government have failed to deliver in the past four years. The Labour party share of the vote was down by 6 per cent. at the election, and it was the only major party in Wales to reduce its percentage share of vote. My sadness is that we were not able to attract those non-voters in sufficient numbers to our party.

We have heard about a crisis of democracy and the drop in turnout, and some of the decline in the number of people who feel it worth while to get out and vote has a direct correlation with those who feel that we have nothing to offer. They believe that we talk about aspiration but do not turn that into direct action. This is the Government's second chance to deliver on those frontline services. I hope that, with the full knowledge that the waiting list for the waiting list in Wales is increasing, the Government will listen carefully to the people of Wales and those in the NHS, and deliver.

I shall speak about other issues briefly. One is foot and mouth and, as has been said, it was sad to hear about the recent outbreak in Brecon. Tourism and farming have both been hit hard. Although the matter is devolved, the Government, with their new Department, are examining it and how to deliver. We must work together at all levels of government to ensure that those involved in farming and tourism get the support that they desperately need.

I referred earlier to the Dun and Bradstreet report, which the Secretary of State mentioned. It said that five Welsh businesses were collapsing each day and referred to foot and mouth. We should not dismiss it by saying that there are other areas in which we are doing rather well; we must instead pay due regard to businesses, particularly the one-man or two-men bands that have been working over many years. We should work out how we can provide recovery packages to such businesses so that, having survived, they can grow and create the fresh jobs that we need in Wales, especially in rural areas. Rural Wales needs jobs desperately. We cannot ignore the plight of those involved in tourism and agriculture who have been blighted by foot and mouth, and simply believe that the situation will be picked up by other industries.

Crime is mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but we will examine again the Government's proposals for delivery. Figures show that violent crime is on the increase. In Wales between March 1998 and September 2000, violent crimes against the person went up from 17,589 to 38,185—an amazing increase—while robbery went up from 786 to 885. Obviously, the police must be given better support. Perhaps we should consider the specials, who play a valuable role by assisting the police in key areas and releasing them to perform other duties. We should encourage young people to join the specials. Indeed, that would contribute to active citizenship, something that the Government wish to promote. If more youngsters throughout the whole of Wales were involved in the specials, they would be performing a doubly valuable service.

We were told that there would be something in the Queen's Speech about victims' rights, but I fail to see it. Perhaps the Government would reconsider victims' rights—and also sentencing, which is important, too. A lot of emphasis has been placed on the early release of prisoners. How about giving some support to the police who have tracked down those people by ensuring that persistent offenders are detained in prison for longer periods of time?

Education has been mentioned, and we want to ensure that our schools receive proper support. There is a problem with attracting people to teaching. The Times Educational Supplement found that there were 10,000 vacancies in secondary schools throughout the whole of the country, and a survey carried out by the National Association of Head Teachers found that there were 4,000 vacancies. Secondary class sizes have actually increased. The Government said that they would reduce class sizes in certain areas. If they believe that it is important to reduce class sizes, it is time that they looked at the whole of education.

On encouraging enterprise, we have heard that many small businesses are unhappy about bank charges. The excellent report by the Federation of Small Businesses entitled ``Barriers to Growth and Survival'', which came out last year, has been referred to. The percentage of businesses in Wales that are dissatisfied with the interest rate for borrowers— I speak with some authority—is 58 per cent., and a higher percentage, 73 per cent., are unhappy with bank charges. That is an accurate reflection. However, when we flip the page—perhaps this will be of interest to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), who referred to it earlier—we discover that the percentage of businesses that are unhappy with fuel costs is 95 per cent. I want to know what the other 5 per cent. are doing; I suspect that they have bicycles. The percentage of businesses that are unhappy with road tax is 77 per cent. The percentages unhappy about legislation issues are: for volume of legislation, 81 per cent.; for complexity of legislation, 83 per cent.; for rate of change of legislation, 79 per cent.; for interpretation of legislation, 79 per cent.; for cost of compliance, 65 per cent. Those are things that we can do something about. We ought to listen more carefully to businesses, particularly small businesses—I referred to tourism, but there are other small businesses throughout Wales, particularly in rural areas—and introduce measures that will be of assistance to them.

The line in the Gracious Speech that I enjoy and fear more than any other is that on page 4:

    ``Other measures will be laid before you.''

That covers everything. People in Wales will be looking to that sentence more than anything else in the Queen's Speech and wondering what the Government will introduce to improve the quality of life for all the people of Wales.

5.14 pm

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