I also wish to say a word about our relationship with the United States. The Gracious Speech talks of strengthening and deepening relations between the US and the European Union, and I am all for that. However, we should not appease the US when it does things of which we do not approve. Occasionally, we have to stand up to the US and, I am glad to say, we do from time to time. I remember not long ago that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary stood very firm when the US tried to kibosh the International Criminal Court. It backed down; that is the point. The other members of the international community stood up to the US and my right hon. Friend played a leading part in that. The US backed down when confronted. We should do that a bit more.
Also, we should not turn a blind eye to the indiscriminate killing of civilians that, in my experience, has been a feature of all American military activity, and is a feature of such action in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I noticed the other day that even President Karzai of Afghanistanthere is no more loyal ally of the USspoke out about the indiscriminate nature of American military activity.
I am glad that we worked hard to rescue the half-dozen or so British citizens who were interned at Guantanamo Bay. However, some people who have been resident in Britain for a very long timenot citizensare also there. We have no legal obligation to help retrieve them, but we have a moral obligation to do what we can, not least because I think that our security services may have had something to do with getting them into Guantanamo Bay in the first place. I hope that we will continue to pursue those cases.
I am also concerned at increasing reports of a secret gulag into which terrorist suspects disappear. They are being ghosted round the world and, in some cases, torture is contracted out to third countries. Egypt and Syria have been mentioned. Some of these people are completely innocent and appear again looking dazed and confused nine months later without any question of due process having taken place. We should not turn a blind eye to that, and I believe that the Americans have a word for it.
Yes, "extraordinary rendition". We ought to know a little more about extraordinary rendition and should not close our eyes to it. We are supposed to be fighting for democracy and the United States says that it is signed up to the same values as we are. Let us make sure that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. I repeat my question on the contracting out of torture, because I have even seen it suggested that one of the assertions made by Colin Powell in his famousperhaps one should say notoriousUnited Nations speech was based on information extracted under torture. That is the other point about torture: one does not always get the correct information and it does not do anyone any good in the long term. It diminishes us all. I hope that we shall pay some attention to what is going on. We are all against terrorism and have all signed up to fighting the war
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against it. However, we are not obliged to close our eyes to the excesses of our allies in that cause. If it becomes necessary for us to sup with a slightly longer spoon with the United States, so be it.
In conclusion, I return to my point about the next generation of nuclear weapons. I seek from the Minister an assurance that some discussion of that issue will be brought here to Parliament while there is still time to influence it. I would be grateful if someone could report back in the closing speeches.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). He obviously has a huge knowledge of African affairs and I hope that it is put to good use by the Government. However, I would not be so bold, as a new Member, to suggest what that should be.
It is a great honour to rise to speak as the newly elected Member of Parliament for Monmouth. I do so knowing that Monmouth has always enjoyed representatives of the highest calibre. Huw Edwards, my immediate predecessor, was very well known for his pleasant disposition and for his very hard work as a constituency Member of Parliament. Over the years on many occasions, we shared platformshe as the Labour Member of Parliament, I as the Conservative Member of the Welsh Assemblybut both representing the same constituency and, more often than not, both on the same side. I commend the way in which he was always willing to put aside any personal political differences to work for the good of the local community.
Both Huw Edwards and the other main candidate, Phil Hobson, the Liberal Democrat mayor of Chepstow, fought the campaign with dignity and courtesy. It is my belief that both are clearly motivated by a love of the area in which we all live and a desire to better the lives of those who live there.
Previous MPs for Monmouth also distinguished themselves: Roger Evans, as a Social Security Minister; Sir John Stradling Thomas, as deputy Chief Whip; the right hon. Donald Anderson, who chaired the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs; and Lord Thorneycroft, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer. I cannot possibly hope to match that array of achievements but, if in four years or so I am thought of as a good constituency Member, I shall feel that I have achieved a great deal. One thing that all of us have had in common is a desire and a commitment to better the lives of all those who live in the constituency.
Although it is called the Monmouth constituency, it is much more than the market town from which it takes its name. Years ago, it was a sizeable part of south-east Wales. These days, the constituency is still large and includes of the towns of Abergavenny, Usk, Croesyceiliog, Raglan and Tintern as well as countless other small villages and great swathes of countryside.
As a border county, it is rich in both history and historians. Geoffrey of Monmouth chronicled the Arthurian legends in the 12th century and Adam of Usk gave us graphic accounts of the battles of Owain Glyndwr. Glyndwr was a Welsh landowner who fell out with King Richard II in about 1400, and much of the county was laid to waste by the battles that subsequently raged throughout as he tried to set up an independent
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republic of Wales. That early brush with devolution seems to have had a lasting impact on the population, as they voted overwhelmingly against a Welsh Assembly.
Some 130 years after Glyndwr's disappearance, Henry VIII caused further problems when he decided to embark on an early form of local government reorganisation. Deciding that Monmouthshire was more prosperous than the rest of Walesa mistake that, unhappily, continues to be made todayhe decided to make it part of the Oxford court assizes while the rest of Wales remained a separate area for judicial purposes. Official documents, including some that emanated from the House over the years, then began to refer to "Wales and Monmouthshire", which gave rise to the belief that the county was actually a part of England and that its supposed annexation into Wales after the 1974 boundary changes clarified the situation was nothing more than a conspiracy to drag the inhabitants back into the Principality of Wales from England. By the way, some of those people have already been in contact with me looking for surgery dates, which should be interesting.
The belief in Monmouth's prosperity continues to be widely yet incorrectly held. Like many other rural areas, Monmouth has suffered significant problems over the years, some of which were local, with others more national. I certainly want to use my role to fight on many local issues. I will fight for a new livestock market, which will be needed when the old one in Abergavenny closes down, a new river bank defence scheme to protect us from another outbreak of the disastrous flooding that occurred in Monmouth a few years ago, and to improve the regeneration of Chepstow by sorting out its traffic management problems. Of course, I am also upset about recent legislation that has undermined the fallen livestock collection service and threatened the viability of many farms. I might return to that subject when we are allowed to be more controversial.
There are many small schools throughout my constituency, such as Ponthir, Llanover and Llanelly Hill, that face closure irrespective of their academic results. Last year, Ponthir school had the best standard assessment test results of any school in the borough of Torfaen, yet the local education authority still wants to slam shut the school gates for ever.
Although the agriculture and tourism industries on which we depend so much have suffered, especially as a result of foot and mouth, great strides have been made in developing the specialist food industry. Abergavenny Fine Foods exports cheese all over the world, while Brooks Dairies makes what I think is the best ice cream I have ever tastedby the way, it did not sponsor my campaign in any way.
Many people are employed in manufacturing industry if not actually in my constituency, just on the outskirts. Such companies include what I remember as Lucas Girlings, for which I worked, although it is now called Verity. The success or failure of those industries depends greatly on developing a foreign policy that allows Britain to trade freely with the rest of the world and, dare I say it, does not necessarily depend on us tying ourselves into an economic straitjacket with other countries in the EU.
As we are debating defence, may I take this opportunity to commend the R Mon Royal Engineers, who have been active over the past year or so rebuilding
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Iraq? What is remarkable about the work of the Royal Engineersmany of its members live in the town of Monmouthis that the people are all volunteers and members of the Territorial Army. However, when the call came, they were happy to give up their jobs and go out to risk their lives rebuilding Iraq. I know that there are differences of opinion about the war, but whatever we might think about it, surely we can commend the people who give up nine-to-five jobs to go to Iraq and try to help the people who live there.
Back home, of course, those people and other constituents have been exercised by the recent council tax rises, which have added to the problems of people in rural areas who buy their own homes. Council tax in Monmouthshire has risen by about 130 per cent. over the past five years, which has happened because we use a formula that does not properly take account of the cost of delivering services in rural areas and because all too often the Welsh Assembly imposes extra burdens on local authorities, such as the teachers' work load agreement, without properly funding them.
The recent rebanding exercise that has taken place in Walesit will soon follow in Englandhas added to our woes. Some 40 per cent. of properties in Monmouthshire have gone up by at least one band, but many have gone up by two or even three. A one-band increase means a 25 per cent. rise overnight. However, a sum equal to the extra money collected by local authorities is being withheld by the Welsh Assembly from the local government settlement, which means, in simple terms, that people are paying more, but will not see an extra penny spent on local services. I hope that the House will learn from the mistakes of the Welsh Assembly, especially before it gives any consideration to giving the Assembly extra powers.
I hope that we will learn from what has happened with council tax and the effect that that has had on the affordability of homes. By reducing the burden of council tax, we could increase the opportunity of home ownershipnothing could be more important to any of us than that. A nation in which home ownership is limited to only the wealthy is a nation divided.
I became involved in politics because I believed passionately that we must try to end divisions in society and help to build a cohesive society. We should have a society in which all of us have an equal chance to get on, with an equal chance to get into the best schools and universities, to hold a rewarding job and to own our own homes. Regardless of the differences that I am sure that I will have with Labour Members over the years, I believe that we should all be working for that vision. That belief is certainly as strong on this side of the House today as it was in the days of Disraeli. It is as relevant in the back streets of my home town of Newport as it is in the bistros of Notting Hill. For as long as I continue to serve as the Member of Parliament for Monmouth, I shall fight locally for my constituents and nationally to create the cohesive, one-nation society in which all have the chance to succeed.