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Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): I too was going to concentrate on a specific set of initiatives in my constituency and talk about the improvements that have been made on crime, unemployment and several other issues. I was interested by the contributions made by some Opposition Members about the positive work that is going on and the partnership working that is taking place to drive such matters forward.
I have sat through debates in the House over almost four years, but I cannot let the contribution made by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) go. He described a land that I do not see and a community in which I do not live. I actually live in my community, as opposed to Conservative Members, who talk about us, but often do not come and talk to us. I heard an insult tonight to not only my constituents but my country. It was also an insult both to the people in institutions in my country who are actually trying to build it and to police officers. If Conservative Members bothered to speak to police officers in my community about the way in which they are working in partnership with people from other agencies to improve things, they might have a better view of the world.
Frankly, the hon. Gentleman's comments were an insult to his own party. He does not represent the members of the Conservative party in my constituency to whom I talk. I represent the Conservatives in my constituency far better than Conservative Members, so I really cannot let this go. Conservative Members peddle a view from the outsidenot only in the Chamber, because I have heard it elsewherebut frankly we are fed up with it. Their views are a caricature of the Welsh nation and many of our communities.
An article appeared in the national press several weeks ago about the serious problem of economic inactivity, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) tried to raise a constructive point earlier about what we are trying to do to deal with that. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), who visited my constituency last week to launch an initiative by the Merthyr Tydfil Institute for the Blind, which not only deals with the blind but is a major provider of opportunities to bring people into work and make the journey from economic inactivity and ill health back to productive employment. Of course, many such people are in that position because of the activities and policies of the Conservative party, which now claims to want to do something about the problem, although it created it in the first place. Good people in my community are trying to do something about the situation.
I do not deny that there are needs in my constituency, that there are problems, that there are issues relating to ill health and economic incapacity, or that we have
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problems relating to the quality of work. As was pointed out earlier, we need to have higher-order employment activities, so that we do not just have jobs that can be overtaken by low wages in the rest of the world. Those are real issues that warrant a proper debate, not caricatures and sloganising.
What is happening is sustained investment in my community. That is what I am interested in, because it is what I need to solve some of those problems. The history of the valleys is one of episodes. We have had jobs and work, and then they have disappeared. We need sustained economic investment in our communities, and that is what we are beginning to get.
One way that we can address this issue is by using the agencies available to us. As was pointed out earlier, our experience in Wales has been that many things have happened in Cardiff, along the M4 and so on, but we are now beginning to see investment being made elsewhere. As a new Member of Parliament, I joined several of my colleagues and came up with a small amount of money to do some research into where Wales could go. One thing that came out of that research was a "Heads of the Valleys" strategy. In effect, it is the road from England that runs along the whole of the old coalfield of south-east Wales. That initiative has been taken up by the National Assembly for Wales. Good things are happening, and we will start investing across that crescent. Such investment is long overdue.
One of my particular disappointments in my four years in this HouseI have several disappointments concerning the conduct of some matters herehas been that initiatives are not seized as quickly as they could be by the Assembly and some of its agencies. We must be honest about that and try to make it work, rather than bleating on, saying that it did not happen and will not happen. If we put the work in, it can happen. I praise what my colleagues in the Welsh Affairs Committee have said in the various reports about how the agencies and institutions could work better together.
In my four years in the House, I have also seen where my community and Wales are in the world. Wales does not operate in isolationthat is the point that the Conservatives are missing. They invite us into a trap. They invite us to consider things individually and not in context. Well, I have been a member of the Defence Committee for a couple of years, and as a member of it I have had the opportunity to visit other parts of the world. I have been to Iraq twice and seen the work that the Welsh military are doing in trying to build that community. I have also been to Afghanistan. People say, "Why are you going to Afghanistan?" I go there because that is where the drugs that end up in the veins of some of my constituents are grown. I want to see how the British military and other institutions are dealing with the problem of drugs being grown in Afghanistan, exported through Turkey and into Kosovowhere we are also engaged in a policing operationin an effort to stop them being split, bagged, put on the streets and into the veins of my constituents.
That is why there is a link. It is strategically important that we engage in these issues in the world. When one goes to such communities, one finds ordinary people who wish to build a community and get on with their lives. It is interesting to note that the local authority in my area is celebrating its centenary. Of course, there are all sorts of centenary celebrations. We have had the
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centenary of the formation of the Labour party, and there is a lot of history in the Labour party. I must carry some of the baggage, because Keir Hardie was the first Labour MP. The point is simply that when one visits other parts of the world, one discovers thatalbeit that the form of the questions and the way in which they come up are differentthe politics remains the same. People are looking for enfranchisement, development and somebody to give them positive help and investment to build their communities.
That is the community that I live in. It is not the community of fat, feckless, gun-toting, drugged-up individuals that the Opposition seemed to describe. It is not that community, but one that has ambition. Frankly, that was the Opposition's description. Apparently we are all an obese bunch of criminals who tote guns and do not want to go to work. That is the vision, that is the insult, of Conservative Members. It is certainly not the community in which I live: I resent the accusations and I will not have it. We are being invited into a trap. We are being invited to look at points of disaffection individually, one at a time, without seeing them in their proper context. The Conservatives are then trying to whip up hysteria and concern over and above what is warranted on each individual issue in order to distort the truth and invite people into the very trap of not seeing the whole of the argument in its proper context.
The people in my community are not so daft, Mr. Deputy Speaker. They have seen it before; they understand it. They know the community and the world in which they live and they do not need any lessons about their problems, as they experience them every day. The difference is that they are prepared to make a constructive contribution and do something about their problems.
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth) (Lab): It is privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard), who has delivered one of his commendably and characteristically robust speeches. Those of us who have been Members of the House slightly longer than him will remember the robust speeches of his predecessor, Ted Rowlands, who also spoke well in this debate for many years.
I heard the sensitive speech of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) about the Welsh language. When he gets on a train and goes to south Wales through the Severn tunnel, I wonder whether he is aware that, by the time that he comes out of it, he has already passed Wales's first Welsh-medium primary school, Ysgol y Ffîn, in a little railway village called Sudbrook in the very corner of my constituency.
I would like to commend the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) when she paid tribute to Lord Callaghan. She spoke eloquently about her meeting with him when she was a young Labour party campaigner. I met Lord Callaghan more recently at a soirée, as it used to be called, hosted by the previous Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, in Speaker's House on a lovely evening, to celebrate the songs and music of Ivor Novello. Lord Callaghan was there with his wife, Audrey, and it was a delightful evening.
Four years ago, when we had a similar debate before what we expected would be a general election, we were in the depths of a foot and mouth crisis, which hit my
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constituency in a devastating way. I will never forget the images of the huge pyres that I saw during the culling of hundreds and hundreds of sheep and cattle in my constituency. There was a devastating feeling throughout the countryside at that time, but I am pleased to say that there has been a significant improvement in the farming community since then. There has been improvement in farm incomes in the livestock sector, notwithstanding the fact that there are still serious problems in the dairy sector, particularly in the price that dairy producers are able to get for their raw milk.
I did hear the speech of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). I agree with some of his points, and I share his party's concern about the council tax. I want to tell my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that council tax is the issue that crops up on the doorsteps of my constituents. My constituency, in common with all the constituencies in Wales, has undergone the rebanding exercise. It has had a significant effect in my constituency, given the substantial increase in house prices over recent years without any substantial increase in the capacity of my constituents to pay the council tax. I have every sympathy with them. I certainly commend the £200 rebate that the Government have provided, but the fact that it has been necessary is symptomatic of an underlying problem with the council tax system. I applaud the Government's review of that system and hope that something is done about it within a year.
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