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Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): It is a great pleasure to be back at the Dispatch Box. It is after only a short interval, but it is wonderful to be back, and for a St. David's day debate as well. It is not quite St. David's day, and I know that much has been made of whether it is closer to St. George's day or St. Patrick's day. We know that it is nearest to April Fools' day; I am not sure what that says about any of us.
I want to pay tribute to at least three Members who I know are about to stand down if the general election is about to happen. One is the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies), who normally takes part in these debates. He makes lucid, superb contributions, particularly on the economy, and the House will miss him. We will also miss the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), particularly for his insight into foreign affairs. He has been a tremendous Chairman of that Select Committee. I grew up in Swansea and followed his career with great interest. The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), who is sitting
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in his usual place, has made continual contributions to these debates over the years, particularly on the health service. We will miss him too, and we wish him well in whatever he decides to do in what I am sure will be a busy retirement.
I should like to associate myself with the words of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition about the sad death of Lord Callaghan. He was a superb man, as we can see from all the tributes that were paid to him earlier. The Father of the House, in particular, spoke warmly of Jim Callaghan's character. We will certainly miss him, too.
If the general election is comingclearly the Leader of the House will not comment on that nowwe must pay particular attention to the comments of the judge in the investigation into the rigging of postal votes. He said that the electoral fraud in Birmingham
Turning to the subject matter of today's debate, I hope to touch on as many of the issues raised as possible, but I have agreed to speak for only about 10 minutes so that the Minister will have more than ample time to[Interruption.] To apologise, indeed, and to answer many of the points that have been made.
Council tax has been mentioned time and again. Nobody can be happy about the current levels or, indeed, about the revaluation that has taken place in Wales. The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) said that it is the question that is coming up on the doorstep time after time. Knowing the houses in Monmouth that I do, I can only imagine how disheartened people are by the council tax bills that they now receive. A gentleman from Sketty in Swansea wrote to me:
"Since my last letter I have received my council tax for 2005, and because they have rebanded, my tax has risen from £872.20 in band D to £1102.32 in band E. So my pension increase for this year is £4.30, and will disappear when my council tax is implemented."
That is the sort of situation that people face up and down the country. They have seen their council tax increase eating away at any pension increase they have had. Clearly that is something that must be tackled. I do not think that the answer is a local income tax, and I shall come to that in a moment, but we need to address the issue properly. Given the increases that we have seen, the £200 that the Government are offering senior citizens simply is not enough, particularly as it is for only one year. Something far more radical is needed.
I have looked at today's edition of the South Wales Evening Post, not my normal reading matter. Of course, when I ran a shop in Swansea, I used to sell that newspaper. We have been talking about the national health service, and the front page of the newspaper says:
"Queues have been forming in the rain outside a Swansea dentistto sign up for private places. The dental crisis rocking the city was brought into sharp focus when would-be patients stood in the pouring rain to grab one of 300 Denplan places available at Quentin Jones surgery in Walter Road."
"As a socialist and trade unionist the concept of private dental care isn't one I feel comfortable with . . . But as my teeth aren't in the best of condition, and as I have an 82-year-old mother who needs to have treatment available to her, I felt I had no choice.
Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman can say that, but the Government have been in power for eight years, so it is about time for them to have done something about it. We were told at the 1997 general election that we had only 24 hours to save the national health service, but this is testament to what is happening now. The hon. Member for Monmouth spoke a year or so ago about the problems of finding an NHS dentist for his own constituency. It is a real problem.
Mr. Evans: Absolutely, but I can only imagine the queue that formed outside that dental practice. People will have travelled for miles to try to get on to that NHS list. We all know that there are huge deficiencies.
Let us stay with Monmouth for a second, and with the national health service. A lot has been said about statistics, but statistics hide the human tragedies of individual cases. The front page of the Monmouthshire Beacon on 24 February was headlined "Home sale to pay for hip operation". The story said:
Alan Scott, whose house is up for sale, has gone private, paying £9,000 for an operation, because he was going to have to wait so long, in pain. This is not a person who had taken out private health care. This is a man who was in pain and whom the national health service let down. That is a tragic story. We can all bandy figures around, but that is something that has actually happened in the national health service in Wales. We can talk about waiting lists being this and waiting lists being that, but the reality for people who are waiting in pain for operations is that they know they are not getting the service they are paying for, the service they want, and the service that the doctors and nurses who work in the NHS want to give them. That has to be radically altered. Not so long ago, I read in the Western Mail that the Secretary of State had had urgent talks with the Health Secretary about the crisis in the NHS in Wales, particularly compared with the position in England. Clearly, something needs to be done.
I shall not be able to consider all the issues discussed by everybody today because I have only a few more minutes. However, over the past few years manufacturing jobs have been in decline throughout the country and particularly in Wales, which has been
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proportionately more dependent on those jobs. I have spoken many times to the Secretary of State about the climate change levy, which needs to be looked at seriously. It is having an impact on manufacturing jobs in Wales, and if anything can be done to shore up those jobs and ensure that manufacturing has a bright future, it should be.
We cannot put all our eggs in one basket, as has happened with call centres. We want higher-quality, value-added jobs, too, and we also need manufacturing jobs in Wales, which has depended on them in the past.
I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. The sheer number of its reports is testament to the Committee's hard work over the past 12 months, and I wish the Committee well for the future in dealing with all the other subjects that need to be addressed. I hope that after the election, irrespective of who is in government, we will keep the Select Committee going, and the Welsh Grand Committee, too. I hope that we will even keep the position of Secretary of State for Wales, in order to ensure that the issues are properly dealt with.
It is said time and again that there have been drops in unemployment, but there is also the concept of NEETpeople not in employment, education or training and who do not show up in the statistics. We have to look at economic activity in each constituency in Wales. I heard what some Plaid Cymru Members have said about the rural areas where depravity is more
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