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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): We are in the fourth day of the rebanding exercise that is under way in England, so will my hon. Friend tell the House whether there are any lessons to be learned from the Welsh rebanding exercise, which could help to head off the concerns that he is graphically describing?
I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about the optimism in the Welsh economy. That is certainly evident in my constituency, where there has been investment in communities, social investment, investment by the private sector and new infrastructure. Anyone who comes to Monmouth can see the new leisure centre that is being built, the new road that is helping to regenerate the town, and the health and social care facilities that are being developed. There has been investment in the health service with a new community hospital in Chepstow. It is the first new hospital to be opened in this country under this Government. I have seen the new day surgery unit opened at Nevill Hall hospital, and recently I was at the opening of the new CT scanner which will greatly increase the capacity of doctors and nurses to diagnose heart disease, cancer and so on and ensure that patients can be treated quickly and more effectively.
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I have been involved in campaigns in recent months that the House should be aware of. One was an environmental campaign. Many hon. Members may see attractive signs saying "Woodland for sale" when they drive around their constituencies and the country. I warn them that that is a scam. Those woodlands are being subdivided and sold off. Hon. Members have identified the problem as it affects agricultural land in England, but there is a problem with the subdivision and sale of woodland and meadow land throughout Wales. It has been a particular problem in my constituency, and those who have campaigned against that subdivision have been pioneers in recognising the capacity and limitations of the planning system through the use of an article 4 directive to restrict subdivision and sale of woodland. That has been a particular problem. The website of the company involved is woodlands.co.uk and shows the threat to many of the beautiful woodlands of Wales.
I represent an area with high standards of education and results. It has schools of great excellence in the public and independent sectors and it is a great privilege to represent them. One of my most serious concerns in recent months has been the threat to a number of small schools in my constituency. I have made representations in support of Darenfelin school, which is a delightful small school in Llanelli hill, Clydach; Llanover school, which is a typical rural school; and Ponthir school in the Torfaen area of my constituency. Of all the school campaigns with which I have been involved, the one that has angered me most is the treatment of Ponthir school by Torfaen borough council.
Ponthir school is the smallest school in Torfaen, but it serves a distinct community two or three miles from other areas of Torfaen. It had a few dismantlable classrooms when it was bursting to capacity a few years ago, so it has been deemed to have an excessive number of surplus places and earmarked for closure. I am very sad at the strategy of Torfaen borough council for that school, which has the best performance results of any school in Torfaen. The director of education acknowledged that it achieved 100 per cent. in the last SATs results, but said that one year's results were not an average. A Wimbledon champion is a Wimbledon champion, and it does not matter that they were not a Wimbledon champion three years ago or that they might not be in future.
If Ponthir is the best performing school at the moment, it deserves to kept open, especially as a private nursery is being built immediately adjacent to it which will have a breakfast club, nursery provision and after-school provision. In these days when we must accept the mixed economy of education as well as the mixed economy of health care, it would be a tragedy beyond all tragedies to build a new nursery with an after-school club next to a school that is being closed so that its pupils could not use those new facilities after school. I attended the public meeting where there was wonderful support from the local community, and I will do everything I can to support those parents who want to keep Ponthir school open.
Finally, I have a few comments about social services. One of the great privileges of being in the House in recent years has been to witness the legislation that the Government have passed on carers. There are 9,000 carers in my constituency, probably no greater a
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proportion than in any other constituency. The House has passed two important pieces of legislation, the most recent initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis), who has a particular interest in the subject and set up the all-party carers group since introducing the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004. I wish to pay particular credit to all the carers in my constituency, not least a carer whom I mentioned when I spoke on the Second Reading of that Act. Hermione Ford has campaigned vigorously and rigorously for carers for many years. Sadly, the person she cared for recently died, but I sincerely hope that she will continue with her campaigns.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), who works so hard for all his constituents. I am also pleased to speak in this debate so close to an election. It is good to represent Labour at such a time. I am confident that the people of Wales will recognise what Labour has brought to Wales and Cardiff, from both the Westminster Government and the Welsh Assembly.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his opening remarks, Cardiff has become a much more dynamic and prosperous place over the past few years. Cardiff is booming, and I do not apologise for that. If we have a prosperous capital city, it will help to spread prosperity throughout the rest of Wales. It is great to be a Member of Parliament in Cardiff at the moment.
Cardiff has recently been boosted by the opening of the Millennium arts centre in Cardiff bay. Its ticket prices are affordableone can get one for £5and it is open and accessible to all the people of Cardiff and Wales. We also celebrate the continued success of the Millennium stadium, and we were all hugely boosted by the winning of the grand slam. I noticed in Cardiff this morning that flags with red dragons are still flying from cars. The victory has produced in Cardiff and throughout Wales a feel-good sensation that we can all celebrate.
Cardiff has a thriving nightlife, but that brings its problems. Policing Cardiff after dark creates major issues and means that community beat officers from areas such as Cardiff, North and the outer suburbs are drawn into the city centre to ensure that law and order are maintained. That is a big problem in a city such as Cardiff, despite the fact that the nightlife brings wealth and people into the city centre. The additional problems mean that the suburbs sometimes suffer. My constituency has the antisocial behaviour problems that other Members have mentioned, but we lose community beat officers to the city centre. That is a major problem. Even if other police are drafted in, they do not know the area as well as the local police force, and that causes difficulties.
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My constituents have benefited from many of the facilities that have been introduced since 1997. They benefit from the free access to museums introduced by the Assembly Government in Wales and from the access to museums in England that was introduced by the Government in Westminster. I am sure that many Members will have seen people flooding to St. Fagans, with the queues almost up to the M4. The museum is hugely successful and provides a free day out for all the family. The same is true of the national museum in Cathays park, with its wonderful impressionist galleries. They have all been opened to the people of Wales, and I believe that I am allowed to have my view on this issue, despite the rather oldfashioned approach to women's views of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik).
Julie Morgan: Wales is benefiting from the Chancellor's steady hand on the tiller. My constituents appreciate the benefits of free bus travel for all pensioners in Wales that was introduced in the last term of the Welsh Assembly. I am very pleased that England is doing the same for off-peak travel. I hope that the English Minister who introduces the policy will consult my Assembly colleague, Sue Essex, who is also the Assembly Member for Cardiff, North. She made a phenomenal success of free bus travel in Wales. I have met pensioners in my constituency who say that it has transformed their lives. As so many pensioners use the bus service, more services are being put on because they have become so popular. That is one of the single acts by the Assembly Government that has transformed people's lives in terms of health, wealth and well-being. I am pleased that it is happening in England as well.
Prescription charges have gone down another £1 in Wales and eventually we will have free prescriptions, which is a tremendously positive move. Children whose parents so wish now benefit from free breakfasts in the pilot scheme areas. Obviously, an awful lot more needs to be done. We must continue to improve our public services and to tackle the pay gap between women and men. Although it is smaller in Wales than in the rest of the UK, it is important and directly affects poverty in Wales. However, since 1997 we have succeeded in making solid progress, on the basis of which we can move on.
Local issues greatly concern my constituents, of course. One of the major issues in Cardiff, North is Western Power Distribution's development plan for the Llanishen and Lisvane reservoirs. It plans to build 300 houses and to concrete over part of the reservoirs. That is almost universally opposed by local residents and local politicians of all parties. I pay tribute to RAGthe Reservoir Action Groupchaired by Ted Thurgood, which has led a brilliant campaign in organising opposition to the development.
The root of the problem goes back to the privatisation of the water industry, which resulted in the water industry's assets being sold off. I am opposed to the development not only because of the loss of the amenity to the residents of Cardiff as a whole, but because it is a short-sighted policy. How do we know, in these days of global warming, that we will not need the extra reservoirs? In fact, they were used very recently to supply the Celsa steel works in Cardiff.
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I am calling for a country park to be created in that part of Cardiff. The sailing school operates on the Llanishen reservoir, although the developers have put up an ugly grey spiky fence all around it. The sailing centre has produced world champions, such as Hannah Mills and David Evans, but the proposed development would largely drain the reservoir and severely restrict the sailing centre's activities. The development is opposed by the Welsh Yatching Association and the Sports Council for Wales. I have also drawn the proposal to the attention of Ellen MacArthur, the round-the-world sportswoman, who sent good wishes to the young people training at the centre. The 300 planned houses are bound to have an impact on the neighbouring Lisvane reservoir, which is a site of special scientific interest.
I met the managing director of Western Power Distribution in Bristol to persuade him to think of the greater good of Cardiff, rather than maximising profits from the sale of the land. I am pleased about the amount of work that Western Power Distribution does in Wales, but I appeal to it to take into account the feelings of people in Cardiff. The issue has attracted a tremendous amount of support from people from all parts of the community.
On Friday, I was pleased to present a picture of the young sailors of the centre, signed by Ellen MacArthur, wishing them good luck with their sailing. Surely we should be building on and encouraging that sort of activity, rather than restricting it in the way proposed by the plans by reducing the amount of water in the reservoirs. I appeal to Western Power Distribution to think again. The land was in public ownership for many years, and the local people think that it is their land. They have walked their dogs on it and jogged around the reservoirs. It has been part of their life in Cardiff, North. The land needs to be opened up and made available to even more people.
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