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Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con):
I compliment the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) on his witty and thought-provoking contribution to this debate, and the hon. Members who have spoken for the first time today. I am pleased to be called so early in this Parliament to make my maiden speech as Member of Parliament for Clwyd, West.
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My predecessor, Gareth Thomas, who won the seat in 1997, was well regarded in the constituency as a conscientious and hard-working Member. He and I are both lawyers and we are on excellent personal terms, despite the result on 5 May. He accepted his defeat with grace and magnanimity, and I wish him and his wife well in whatever the future holds for them.
Clwyd, West is possibly one of the most diverse constituencies in the country, certainly in Wales. It is situated in the very north of Wales, and consists essentially of two parts. The northern, coastal portion is a virtually continuous conurbation stretching from Kinmel bay to Rhos-on-Sea, and there the most predominantly spoken language is English, often infused with the rich vowel sounds of Yorkshire and Lancashire.
The southern part of the constituency is very different in character. Agriculture is still the most important industry, and the language of most of its inhabitants is Welsh. At the heart of this southern area lies the beautiful and historic town of Ruthin. It was there in 1400 that Owain Glyndwr raised his standard, starting a civil war that spread throughout Wales and lasted for the best part of a decade. Glyndwr set fire to Ruthin and only two buildings survived, one of which, Nantclwyd house, is being restored by Denbighshire county council.
Another famous Ruthin building is Sir John Trevor house in Castle street, named after a former Speaker of this House, who in 1695 was accused of accepting a bribe from the City of London and was expelled from Parliament, although remarkably enough he retained his office as Master of the Rolls until his death in 1717, thus demonstrating that in those days at least, higher standards were expected of politicians than of the judiciary.
Ruthin is surrounded by the glorious Vale of Clwyd, dotted with villages, whose very namesLlanynys, Llanychan, Llanarmon yn Iâl, Clawddnewydd, Clocaenog and Cyffylliogspeak to the inherent poetry of the ancient Welsh language. But lest it be thought that I represent some sort of latter-day Arcadia, I should add that my constituency has experienced some difficulties over recent years.
The foot and mouth episode caused devastation to the agricultural and tourist industries, and recovery has been slow. Farmers still wrestle with difficult rules on the disposal of fallen stock, which are impossible to administer in practice, and the six-day movement restriction is causing severe hardship. Those are matters that will have to be addressed by the House. There are also local worries over proposals to close rural schools. The schools in Prion and Rhewl in particular are under threat. I propose to do everything that I can to ensure that those schools survive and thrive.
The largest town in the northern portion of my constituency is Colwyn Bay, which grew up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a retirement and holiday resort for people primarily from the north-west of England. Colwyn Bay has fallen on hard times recently, although there are some signs of regeneration. Antisocial behaviour is particularly prevalent, and during the recent general election campaign that matter was constantly raised by residents, with many saying that they were concerned about going out after dark.
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I consider it outrageous that people do not feel safe on the streets of their own towns, and something needs to be done urgently. The Gracious Speech carries proposals to clamp down on the possession of knives, but I note that we already have a plethora of legislation on the carrying of offensive weapons. It would be more appropriate proactively to enforce the current legislation through high-visibility policing and more police.
Colwyn Bay also has a significant drug problem, which has increased in recent years. The local newspaper recently reported that a white van has been seen cruising about the town selling drugs, much in the manner of an ice cream van. Not unreasonably, that report has caused severe concern to parents of children in the town. Many of my constituents and I believe that downgrading cannabis from class B to class C was ill advised. The Government are examining that decision, and I hope that they have the courage to admit that they were wrong and reverse the measure.
about which we have heard so much this afternoon and this evening. That is all well and good, but respect is a process that should move in several directionsmost particularly, it should move down from the top. Any Government should show respect to those whom they govern.
I have already mentioned that my constituency is diverse. It is not, perhaps, racially diverse, but it is certainly diverse in terms of culture, language, aspiration and lifestyle. Teenage tearaways who make life unbearable for other people clearly deserve condemnation, but most young people are decent people, and they deserve our respect. We could start showing them respect by recording crimes committed against those under the age of 16 in the British crime survey, because young people are most likely to be the victims of crime at the hands of street thugs.
Older people, perhaps more than any other section of our community, also deserve respect. Council tax rebanding in Wales has caused many of my constituents, who now dread their annual council tax bill, severe financial hardship. More and more pensioners are being forced to resort to means tests, which they find demeaning, and more could be done to make means tests more respectful of those whom they serve.
People in the rural parts of my constituency have recently suffered not only as a result of the foot and mouth episode, which I have mentioned, but at the Government's hands through the ban on fox hunting. Their lives are far removed from those of the Hampstead thinkers who regard fox hunting as anathema. The Burns report was commissioned and then ignored, which also showed a lack of respect. It is time that the Government recognised that the lifestyles of those in rural areas are different, and that the countryside is a place in which people work and live, not simply a place of recreation for city dwellers.
Those who face large-scale developments such as the two wind farms planned for my constituency should also be shown respect. One of those wind farms, the Gwynt-y-Mor wind farm, would be one of the largest offshore
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wind farms in the world, while the construction of the other might well result in the felling of up to one fifth of Clocaenog forest, where it would be located. The planning regime in this country is such that local residents' representations are largely irrelevant, and a respectful Government would take into account the views of those people whose lives would be fundamentally touched by such developments.
The legislative programme outlined in the Gracious Speech is extensive, and it affects Wales, and therefore my constituency, perhaps more than any other part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Wales announced with some delight that Wales had an unprecedented number of Bills in this Session, and I am sure that the people of Wales are delighted at the superabundance of legislation that is about to be bestowed upon them. That programme must receive support where it deserves it; it must be challenged, where appropriate; and it must always be carefully and closely scrutinised. I consider it a great privilege to be entrusted with those tasks by the electors of Clwyd, West.
Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): I pay tribute to the excellent speech by the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones), who was a passionate advocate for his constituency. I knew his predecessor, to whom he paid a gracious tribute, well. The hon. Gentleman spoke on several issues that relate to his constituency but have national implications. I have no doubt that he has a distinguished future in this House.
Listening to himindeed, listening to every one of today's maiden speechesprompted me to think how deeply rooted Members become, often very rapidly, in their constituencies. That led me on to a further thoughtthat those who would dabble with the method by which people are elected to this House should consider the implications carefully, and perhaps read this debate, which exemplifies the importance of the constituency link. This House can take great pride in the strength of that deeply rooted link between the individual Member and his or her constituency. It has been exemplified by all those who today spoke for the first time in this House and I pay tribute to every one of them.
A second thought occurred to me as I listened to the debate, prompted by, among others, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband), who is my neighbour. I knew his father well in the 1970s, and it makes me feel old to remember my hon. Friend and his brother as much younger than they are now. I was reminded of the extent to which Members of this House come from a diversity of backgrounds. My mother's family came to this country from pogroms against Russian Jews. Many Members have similar backgrounds. The father of my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North graced the intellectual life of this countryhe was a prominent European intellectual and a great manand his sons will grace the House in representing their constituencies. That made me think how foolish was the policy to have a numerical cap on the number of people who should be allowed into this country, which would have been implemented had the Conservatives had their way. Many of the people who went on to enter this House, or whose children and grandchildren did so, might well have been prevented from coming here.
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I want to make a few points about the Queen's Speech, but will try to curtail them in view of the fact that there are still Members wishing to speak. The first relates to incapacity benefit, which affects many households in my constituency. In Streethouse, for example, more than 60 per cent. of households have somebody, often the prime earner, on long-term sickness or incapacity benefit, often as a result of working in the mining industry. I am pleased that the Government have agreed the massive compensation package that has been debated in this House many times. About £70 million has been paid to people who have long-term illnesses as a result, frankly, of the negligence of the National Coal Board. It is a fabulous and welcome programme. Many of those men have been on incapacity benefit for 20 years, since the pits closed, and some for longer than that.
I do not believe that the villages that I represent will regenerate fully until larger numbers of people earn an income. If we can persuade people off incapacity benefit, that will be a good step towards helping to bring about regeneration. I hope that we shall do that through enticement rather than coercion. I received private assurances from the previous Secretary of State that the Government would want to continue in that way. On that basis, I believe that a consensus can be achieved with people such as me.
Let us briefly consider the health service. In most hon. Members' constituencies, the local hospital plays an important role and is a valued asset to the people whom we represent. In my constituency, there are two hospitals, Pinderfields and Pontefract, both of which are receiving much needed investment from the Labour Government. They are also undergoing massive change, some of which will inevitably impose some strains. Doubtless, the doctors, nurses, technicians and administrators will do their best to ensure that there are centres of excellence in both parts of the constituency. However, I am slightly worried about the announcement only hours after the election that we will now put 1.7 million operations into the private sector.
If that initiative is about increasing overall capacity, I have no problem with it because it means that some of my constituents will receive operations earlier, but if, as I fear, the effect is somehow to cream off capacity from the national health servicemathematically, it is hard to understand how else it can happenthat is an entirely different matter. Any sign of a reduction in NHS capacity either at Pontefract or Pinderfields as a result of a decision to outsource to what the Government choose to call the independent sector would be most regrettable and meet resistance from my constituents. I would feel that they were justified in resisting such proposals. I shall therefore examine carefully the precise way in which the policy rolls out.
I want briefly to mention city academies. In a place such as London, where millions of people live cheek by jowl, and high schools are close togetherperhaps only a mile or a mile and a half aparta choice agenda may well be an appropriate way in which to structure public services. However, in an area such as mine, which has 24 separate villages with only four secondary schools, the choice agenda is meaningless, especially when there is little co-ownership and poor public transport and
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highways infrastructure. The capacity of parents and young people for exercising choice is limited simply through geography and the dispersed nature of the communities that I represent. It is therefore hard to understand how a programme that effectively means the construction of 200 schools at £5 billion can be offered as a panacea for the whole country.
One could almost use the term "bog-standard". A bog-standard regimeI use the term advisedlywill be implemented throughout the country, irrespective of the heterogeneity of the various communities that comprise it. The initiative needs to be examined in the greatest detail if the Government are to demonstrate that it is not an ideological imposition from above. They must produce some evidence, which does not currently exist, to show that the policy will work across the broad range of communities that make up this country.
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