Previous SectionIndexHome Page

12 Mar 2003 : Column 385—continued

6.20 pm

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): The future of Wales depends on the success of our economy. We have heard a great deal over the years about objective 1 status for west Wales and the valleys, and it is extremely heartening that genuine results are being achieved in that programme. For example, 579 projects in Wales are funded by objective 1 resources, and £336 million has already been allocated to those projects. In my constituency of Caerphilly, the Tredomen business park, the new sports hall in Abertridwr, the new training courses at Ystrad Mynach college, the youth cyber café in Bargoed and many other projects have been funded by objective 1 moneys. That is one of the main reasons why there has been a dramatic 36.9 per cent. reduction in unemployment in Caerphilly. I was delighted by the announcement two weeks ago that 300 jobs would be

12 Mar 2003 : Column 386

created in Caerphilly with a new computer manufacturer. The previous week it was announced that 149 extra jobs would be created by three employers. That is tremendous news, and it is a fair reflection of how well the economy is doing in major areas of south Wales.

My constituents' quality of life is improving dramatically because of the policies of central Government and the National Assembly. More jobs have been created, and there are more training opportunities, more policemen on the beat and better health provision. However, there is still a huge problem: Caerphilly county borough council, a nationalist-controlled local authority. It is not just me, the people of Caerphilly and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State who say that it is a problem, but the external auditors.

A few weeks ago PricewaterhouseCoopers prepared a devastating report that said quite clearly that Caerphilly county borough council was underperforming, and was one of the worst local authorities in Wales. In a third of all performance indicators the local authority was in the bottom 25 per cent. The report singled out poor education standards, and also said that the authority's social services regime was appalling. That nationalist local authority lacks coherent policies, vision and a sense of social purpose. It claims to be a listening council, yet only the other day, despite the presentation of a petition signed by 1,000 people against the location of a waste transfer station in the village of Bedwas, it went ahead, completely ignoring public opinion.

The person who has to take responsibility for that underperforming council is the leader of the council, Councillor Lindsay Whittle. There is a saying in Caerphilly—"Antisocial behaviour is a real problem". It is, but it comes not from disaffected young people, but from an underperforming local authority. Lindsay Whittle, the leader of the nationalist council, having made a complete mess of the local authority, now wants to stand for the National Assembly for Wales and represent Caerphilly. I can tell the House that he has tried and tried again to secure a parliamentary seat, and lost every time. I can also tell the House that he will fail to be elected to the National Assembly.

As we go into the elections we must not rest on our laurels, for although much has been achieved in Wales we should look to the future and what we might achieve over the next few years. We should concentrate on tackling economic inactivity, as my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard) has said. That means doing three things. We need innovative policies: we need, for instance, to develop intermediate labour markets to bridge the gap between welfare and work. We need more complementarity between policy areas such as health and economic development. Finally, we need better co-ordination between the Assembly and central Government, particularly the Department for Work and Pensions. I am confident that those things will be done in the future.

12 Mar 2003 : Column 387

I can honestly say that I am proud of the Assembly's achievements since 1999. We have a proud record there—and, indeed, in central Government. I have no doubt that on 1 May we will secure a Labour majority in the Assembly—and we will, of course, hold Caerphilly.

6.26 pm

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): I join the Secretary of State in congratulating Rowan Williams on becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. Anyone with the good sense and decency to oppose a war in the Gulf deserves to be listened to. I am sure that Rowan Williams would support those of us who say there is something wrong with our priorities when we are willing to devote some £1,750 million to preparing for war when that money could be used in communities not just in Wales but throughout the United Kingdom, to provide better homes, hospitals and schools. Indeed, the list is endless, but we could certainly use a lot of that money in Blaenau Gwent. It would enable us to transform our communities.

We have real problems in Blaenau Gwent, many of which—such as bad health and poverty—are interrelated. Everyone now accepts that although the national health service needs more money, and although we welcome the extra money that has been provided, tackling bad health is not enough: poverty must be tackled as well, and we have poverty in abundance in Blaenau Gwent. If we are to tackle poverty, we must tackle the causes of poverty, one of which is unemployment. Our unemployment rate is still unacceptable. We have lost big manufacturing plants—Bosal, Faurecia and Wyvern Furniture. We have lost the coal industry, and more recently we have lost Corus—and, indeed, the steel industry.

It is interesting to hear the Secretary of State talk of possible further redundancies at Corus, and the need to try to persuade the directors to change their plans. In my opinion, talking to Corus is an utter waste of time. It was set up for one reason and one reason only: to asset-strip the industry—and in that regard it has been successful. Sadly, while the directors became millionaires overnight, the people who built the steel industry and took pride in it were thrown on the scrapheap. The Labour Government are doing as much as possible to begin to rectify that wrong.

When we fought the 1992 election we used the slogan, "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". I supported that slogan, and with it in mind I consider that what Corus has done for the steel industry constitutes a criminal act. I think, and I know that the rest of my community shares this sentiment, that we should jail the directors—jail the lot of them. They have not only inflicted a terrible crime on my community; they are increasingly doing the same in communities throughout the United Kingdom.

It is clear that this Labour Government have done many good things to begin to rectify poverty, of which the minimum wage is one. If we build on that, it will be the most important legislation produced by this Government since we came to power in 1997. The Government have also negotiated objective 1 funding, and the central Government public spending settlement for the Welsh Assembly is certainly one of the best for Wales that I can remember since becoming involved in

12 Mar 2003 : Column 388

politics. Sadly, much still needs to be done, and the Welsh Assembly needs to change its priorities in terms of how that money is spent. It is true that many good things have been done. In my community there is the reintroduction of the passenger rail service, the Cwm bypass, the redevelopment of the old Dunlop Semtex site, and the proposed new hospital. However, we must compare that with the money that is being invested in the millennium arts centre in Cardiff bay: £100 million, and a £2 million a year subsidy for ever and a day. The cost of that arts centre far outweighs all the investment in the projects that I have mentioned.

Another problem that my local authority faces is the local government formula, which determines how much money goes to each local authority. Each local authority throughout Wales produces broadly the same range and level of services. However, council tax levels vary widely, with the poorest valley region often having to pay nearly twice the lowest level. Indeed, the valley regions suffer the highest levels of deprivation in Wales. For the poorest communities in Wales to have some of the highest council tax levels is an unsustainable position.

Whatever criticisms I may have of the Welsh Assembly are as nothing, however, when compared with my criticisms of the nationalists. We all remember valley communities asking the Welsh Assembly two or three years ago for some form of damping grant, to begin to rectify the wrongs and deal with the deprivation that they face. Sadly, the Welsh nationalists refused to vote for that additional money. They refused to support an initiative that gave more money to communities such as ours.

I suppose that the nationalists are in a somewhat difficult position. Deep down, they believe not in a partnership between the Welsh Assembly and this Parliament, but in separation and independence. I know that they are reluctant to put that argument, but it is difficult for them to hold back their enthusiasm for it. Some years ago, their glorious leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, said:

I think that he got that slightly wrong.

Sadly, Ieuan did not tell his good friend Cynog Dafis, who then said:

Not to be outsmarted, Ieuan hit back and declared:

the term "full national status."

That seemed to resolve the problem and to overcome some of their difficulties. However, in a nationalist leaflet that was distributed to my home a few days ago—it was one of the first, if not the first, in the party's attempt to win the constituency—Ieuan declared that what his nationalist party stands for is "self-government". So national self-determination, home rule and the many other phrases that the nationalists have used in their lifetime have suddenly been thrown out of the window. They now accept that they stand for self-government, and as Cynog said, self-government actually means independence.

12 Mar 2003 : Column 389

People are not stupid, and they understand what the nationalists are all about. No matter what words they use to hide their true feelings, the party wants Wales to be separated from the rest of the UK. That would be counter-productive. We must realise that there is no difference between unemployed people in south Wales and those in London, or between unemployed steel workers in south Wales and those in the north of England. Rural workers in mid-Wales are no different from rural workers elsewhere in the UK or England.

The problem is not one of nationality. We must change the system under which we live. Sadly for the nationalists, what they argue for would cause further problems for us as a community. It would split one part of the UK from the rest, when we should be united in recognising who the enemy is. The English are not the enemy. The enemy are the Coruses of this world, and such companies are raping our communities, as they were raped many years ago.

Next Section

IndexHome Page