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Mr. Wiggin: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Lembit Öpik: In the anticipation that the hon. Gentleman knows what I am going to say, I give way to him.

Mr. Wiggin: I find it extraordinary that the Liberal Democrat spokesman should even begin to suggest that we would abolish the Assembly—no one in my party has said that. On anything to do with devolution, we are waiting for Lord Richard to report, and the hon. Gentleman should do the same.

Mr. Roger Williams rose

Lembit Öpik: I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Williams: Would my hon. Friend like to remind the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) that the Conservative Assembly Member for the Monmouth constituency has done more than think about the issue—he has spoken about it as well.

Lembit Öpik: I thank my hon. Friend for his insightful contribution. I shall quote the leader of the Conservative party, who said:

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Not an enthusiastic endorsement of devolution, is it?

Chris Ruane: Which one is which?

Lembit Öpik: One question is who would be Beavis and who would be Butthead; the other is whether the hon. Member for Leominster backs his leader's view of the Welsh Assembly.

Mr. Wiggin: It is extraordinary that in such a serious debate the hon. Gentleman is quoting bizarre examples and calling hon. Members names, when we should be discussing achievements in Wales. It is nonsense to use quotes from the past.

Lembit Öpik: I agree with the hon. Gentleman if he is saying that his leader's comments about the Welsh Assembly are ridiculous and inappropriate. I hope that he will bring the matter up in a private meeting with his leader because that approach is the wrong way to deal with the Welsh Assembly.

The hon. Gentleman condemns the Labour party and the Assembly for their failure on health policy—I have issues with it too—but it is worth remembering that the Conservatives presided over a record cut in hospital beds in Wales, which is one reason why we have today's problems.

Plaid Cymru pretended for a long time that it was not in favour of independence. In fairness, it has come clean and said what we believed it to think—it is in favour of independence. I am not opposed to independence in principle. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] How can I be? I am an Estonian nationalist who supported the independence of Estonia from the former Soviet Union. I am not against independence in principle; I am against it in practice.

In my judgment, independence is a bad policy for Wales. There is a tendency to demean Plaid Cymru simply because of its position on separatism. Given that it is no longer being contradictory or hypocritical about its commitment to independence, I respect its candour. Those in Wales who seriously think that independence is the most important thing for Wales should, of course, support Plaid Cymru. Independence would be economically bad for Wales and would provide insufficient cultural or identity benefits. We can have a rational debate on that.

I am not trying to score a point; I am just trying to set up a level playing field. Now Plaid Cymru has described what their single key issue is, we can have a sensible, rational debate and the public can judge whether they support separatism.

Adam Price: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's candour. He thinks that independence would be

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economically bad for Wales, but does he recognise that the Union has been economically disastrous for Wales? What is his proposed alternative?

Lembit Öpik: Wales currently benefits from the Union and there is a net flow of income to it. If it were independent, it would not only lose direct support from the Westminster Government but suffer damage to various trading links because it would have a different currency from the rest of the UK. I have to assume that Plaid Cymru would either join the euro or create some other currency, perhaps with the hon. Gentleman's face on it. If the currency in Wales was different from that of the rest of the UK, there would be practical problems. I do not want to discuss that at present, but we could hold a sensible debate on the matter, which would inform the public and enable them to make a decision. I hope that we can at least give Plaid Cymru credit for being honest about what it stands for.

The Liberal Democrat approach to Welsh issues was summed up well by my colleague Mike German, an Assembly Member and the Deputy First Minister when we led the coalition. He said:

In broad terms, that sums up the Liberal Democrats' vision.

Adam Price: We have all read the manifesto.

Lembit Öpik: Indeed. We were so excited by our manifesto that we could not help sharing it. We also hope that the 30 Labour Assembly Members who received the manifesto will be so impressed that they will defect to the Liberal Democrats and cause a change in the Administration, thereby ending the scourge of tuition fees in Wales.

Many issues relating to Wales have already been mentioned and we do not need to go into policy discussions. High on the list of those issues is dental treatment. Mrs. Wendy Gill recently moved to Newtown with her family and she cannot get dental treatment. She has always taken care of her teeth but, as she rightly points out, it costs more in the long run to allow people's health to decline. I am sure all Members share that concern.

We must also be concerned that, last year, 600 people queued to take up places in a new national health service dental practice in Carmarthen. When another new dental practice opened up in the county, its location was kept secret for fear of similar scenes. This is 21st-century Wales, not the 1950s Soviet Union. People in Wales and throughout the UK deserve better than that.

General practitioner vacancies are at an all-time high; 190 posts are vacant at present—almost 10 per cent. Given the prospect of tuition fees and ever increasing

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debt, there is a diminishing likelihood that that figure will improve. The biggest problem is waiting times and we are all familiar with concerns about them.

I want to highlight a specific problem in the border area that I have previously raised with Ministers. Constituents feel—indeed, they can see—that there is different treatment in Wales and England. I have already informed the Secretary of State that I am awaiting the breakdown of the figures to support the claim made by the Royal Shrewsbury hospital that it is not appropriate for it to provide various treatments for people from mid-Wales. In effect, the hospital says that Powys local health board owes it money. Unfortunately, the hospital is taking a long time to provide those figures and I am concerned that the reason it is dragging its feet may have to do with the veracity of its claim. I hope that I receive the figures and that we can all recognise the need to address those differentials. We cannot pretend that we shall win people's confidence when there are such obvious differences in treatment.

We can all list individuals who are waiting for health treatment. A Mr. Vaughan became so frustrated that he went private so that he could have the hernia operation for which he had been waiting. That is paying twice for health care—once through tax and once through private fees. We must deal with that.

Many people in rural areas continue to feel marginalised. If my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, he will speak about farming. However, despite post office closures, the concerns of elderly people that they will lose their pension books and the threats to rural schools, there is some good news. I am encouraged by the Government's help to BT to implement broadband. We have benefited from that in Montgomeryshire. That is a good example of getting people to work from home.

Another problem—a negative—is that digital television is the only way that some people can receive public service broadcasting, but it seems that the Solus card, which is designed to give people public service broadcasting through the digital network, is not currently available. I raised that issue in Welsh questions yesterday, and the Secretary of State was positive and affirmed his commitment, but I hope that I can work with Ministers to get a result.

On another matter that affects all hon. Members, I wish to refer to my concern for a chap called Des James, whose daughter tragically died—I think at the age of 18—when she was serving at the Deepcut Army barracks. I will not go into detail because the issue is slightly at variance with what we are discussing today. I simply want to say that the many parents in Wales whose children have gone into the Army have a right to know that the Army's duty of care is being appropriately administered. I hope that we will soon see a report from the Surrey police about the circumstances surrounding Cheryl James's death. Inasmuch as that affects Welsh families of people in the Army, I hope that we can have a dialogue with Ministers.

I like working with colleagues from other parties, but it is the duty of the Liberal Democrats, as the effective Opposition in Wales, to point out where Labour could do better. I regard politics as a competition, not a war,

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but I believe that the public are best served when we accept feedback in the spirit in which it is offered. The Welsh Liberal Democrats offer an approach to achieve that aim. If our approach—a less confrontational style of politics, with a positive commitment to partnership—is welcomed by the public of Wales, that is exactly what they will get by voting Liberal Democrat.

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