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Lembit Öpik: First, is the Minister denying that the Liberal Democrats in government argued in favour of local income tax, but failed to get the support of Labour Ministers for that? Secondly, is he denying that the partnership agreed a method of revaluation which was subsequently junked by Labour, and that what was implemented was nothing like what had been agreed with the Liberal Democrats?
The hon. Gentleman speaks about his party's policy on the local council tax. Let us look at the figures that the Liberals have put together in their own report. I hope the people of Cardiff bear this in mind. Under the Liberal Democrat council leadership of Cardiff city council, the average band D payer would have to pay an extra £42 a month as a result of their proposals for a local council tax. When one asks the people of Cardiff in all the Cardiff constituenciesCardiff, North; Cardiff, West; Cardiff, Central; and Cardiff, South and Penarth"Do you want Rodney Berman and the Liberal Democrats in city hall deciding the level of your local tax?", they certainly do not.
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The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire then had a little slap at both the Conservatives and the Labour party, calling us the two old parties. The Liberal Democrats have had more reincarnations than Dr. Who.
My hon. Friend the Member for Conwy spoke about the reaction of the police to the Tory scares about crime in Wales. She praised the work of the North Wales police service, and she is right to do so. It is doing an excellent job. It has 232 extra officers since Labour came to office, an increase of 17 per cent.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) spoke about affordable housing and referred to the fact that he and I are to meet later this week, and I look forward to the paper that he will present to us. But the Government have taken a number of steps to try to help to overcome some of the difficulties that he raises. In Wales, 68 per cent. of all transactions will be exempt from stamp duty, and as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor recently announced in his Budget, first-time buyers will be helped by the doubling of the stamp duty threshold to £120,000.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the issue of second homes, and I have no doubt that that does impinge on linguistic issues. In Wales, about 1.3 per cent. of houses are second homes, but I appreciate that in his constituency that figure could be much higher. His comments about crime were measured and helpful, and I took on board his comments about social exclusion and drugs and alcohol problems. As a Back Bencher, I remember having an Adjournment debate about alcohol misuse, and at that time a company was doing market research on alcohol-based milk shakes. If they were not targeted at young people, I do not know who they were targeted at. I regret that the hon. Gentleman was somewhat dismissive of the powers to be given to local councils to decide licensing hours, because that will be a major contribution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) gave us quite an insight into the ragbag bunch led by the Liberal Democrats who run his council in Swansea. I hope that in the weeks ahead he continues to expose the shameful fraud that they have perpetrated on the electors of Swansea, and the sooner they are kicked out the better.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) spoke about the importance of the Welsh language legislation and its impact on Welsh public services. The Government are committed to the principle of treating Welsh and English on the basis of equality in the delivery of public services, although he is right to point out that there are difficulties in that respect. I am sure that he is aware that the former chairman of the Welsh
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Language Board, Rhodri Williams, said that it had not supported calls for new Welsh language legislation, and he believes that persuasion is the way to equip and prepare people to handle queries in the Welsh language.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard) spoke with a passion about the true state of Wales, not the myths and the picture that was painted by the official Opposition spokesman of a Wales that I did not recognise, a Wales that I do not live in. Of course, he does not live there either, and that is why he does not know the real state of things in Wales.
My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) spoke about the improvement in the farming community in his area, whose interests he represents so well. It is a major employer and forms a major part of the economy in his constituency. He also covered a range of other measures that the Government are taking to help to improve the lot of his constituents.
Then we had the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). I have two words for the hon. Gentleman: welcome back. He has not changed, but in contrast to the hon. Member for Leominster he had a much more sensible approach to the debate, although we would not agree with some of what he said. However, he certainly did not paint the exaggerated picture of our Wales that his hon. Friend did.
Throughout Wales's industrial history, working people have had their lives shortened because of poverty grinding down and crushing their spirit. We have come far because Labour Governments have done much to raise families up from poverty and disease. I am deeply proud of this Labour Government's historic commitment to halve child poverty by 2010 and to end it within a generation. The great socialist James Maxton said:
Unemployment in Wales is now less than 60,000, from a Tory high of over 150,000, and that teaches us that Wales faces a choice. The great Labour Welshman, Nye Bevan, saw unemployment as the acid that eats into the homes of the poor. The choice as we face a general election will be simple. The choice is between a Conservative party whose leader called the minimum wage absurd, and a Labour party that believes in a decent wage for a decent day's work. The choice is between a Conservative party that would charge for delivering the health service and a Labour Government who will ensure that the health service is free at the point of need. The choice is between a Labour party that will deliver for the people of Wales and a Tory party that will take us back and destroy Wales. I know that when the election comes the people of Wales will choose Labour.
Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): This petition, collected over a relatively short period, demonstrates the support of my constituents and others for the "Make poverty history" campaign. The petition echoes early-day motion 9, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown), whose tireless work on international development issues will be sadly missed. The petition reads:
Declares that the current debt crisis, trade injustice and shortcomings of aid exacerbate poverty, inequality, the HIV/AIDS crisis and environmental degradation across the developing world; and further declares that if the international community is to make poverty history then there needs to be further co-ordinated political action by the world's governments, including the United Kingdom, aimed at trade justice, dropping the debt and providing more and better aid.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons call upon the United Kingdom Government to lead the way for change, and to use its influence when holding the presidency of the G8 and chairing the EU to make poverty history in 2005.
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