|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Labour Government introduced, for the first time in our history, a statutory national minimum
wage. It has been increased by 40 per cent. since its introduction, has been extended to 16 and 17-year-olds, and benefits an estimated 70,000 low-paid workers in Wales, the overwhelming majority of whom are women. We have ended the two-tier work force, repealed Tory anti-union laws and introduced new rights for part-timers, for holidays, and for maternity and paternity pay. As a result of Labours Government of Wales Act 2006, Wales will have additional law-making powers from May this year, with the prospect of full primary powers in future, subject to the approval of the people of Wales in a referendum.
Mr. Hain: There speaks the true voice of Welsh conservatismopposed to devolution and to more powers for Wales. The tremendous progress that Wales has made is due in no small measure to the leadership of Labours First Minister, Rhodri Morgan. Rhodri is a unique character, and everyone in Wales seems to be on first-name terms with him. He towers over the rag-bag collection of Opposition politicians who aspire to replace him. Together with his Assembly Cabinet team, he has helped to put Wales back on the right track, and has laid the foundations for future success.
The progress that we have made owes a huge amount to the strength of the partnership between London and Cardiff since the creation of the Assembly. The jobs, and the investment in our schools and hospitals, were only possible because the Government in London and the Assembly Government in Cardiff are committed to working together in the interests of Wales. The £16 billion investment at St. Athan is just the latest example of the phenomenal results that we can achieve if Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom work together in the United Kingdom. Partnership is the key to our success, and we abandon it at our peril. All that goes to show that a small, clever country such as Wales can be world-class, but only if it is outward-looking and responds to global challenges, not if it is isolated, inward-looking, and retreating into a backward parochialism and separatism.
Working with strategic national and international partners is vital to Waless continued prosperity. Wales can respond fully to global challenges only if the United Kingdom and Wales work together and act in partnership. That is the key to success, both for the UK at large and for Wales in particular. Wales benefits from being part of the UK, and the UK benefits from Wales.
Mr. Roger Williams: The financial link between Wales and the UK is the Barnett formula, but on 21 February, the Prime Minister said that the Labour Government would adhere strictly to that formula, even though its author says that it is past its sell-by date and is outdated. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he supports the Prime Minister on that point, or will Wales get the funds appropriate to its needs, and not just to the number of people who live there?
I understand the hon. Gentlemans point, but his difficulty is that spending per head in Wales is significantly higher than it is in England. That is the dilemma that he faces. If we open up the Pandoras box
of the Barnett formula, it is not clear that Wales would do better as a result, so I urge caution on him. That is why we have no plans to change the way in which the Barnett formula distributes the Welsh block to the people of Wales.
The contribution that Wales made to Britains industrial development was a significant factor in our becoming a world power. Welsh manufacturers such as Airbus are the jewel in the industrial crown of the United Kingdom as a whole, and not just Wales. As a result of the partnership within the UK, Wales benefits from public investments that are almost £1,000 per head greater than those in England. The Union is, of course, much more than merely an economic arrangement. Personal and family connections are stronger than ever before, with more Welsh people living in England, and more English people living in Wales, than at any point in our history. Institutions that define Britishness show us what we have achieved together. The national health service was created by a proud son of Wales, Nye Bevan. The BBC is home to many great Welsh broadcasters and great Welsh productions, such as Doctor Who and Torchwood. Those institutions show how deeply Britishness is ingrained in our shared values, and how Wales has helped to define Britishness. As part of the UK, Wales has clout and influence on the world stage, but in the event of separation, we would be nigh-on irrelevant.
Despite that, the partnership from which we benefit is under threat. Reckless Conservative policies, such as English MPs voting for English laws, would not just consign Welsh MPs to second-class status in Parliament, but would consign the people of Wales to second-class status in the United Kingdom, and so encourage separation. Through narrow party political opportunism, the Tories are working hand in glove with the nationalists and threatening the break-up of the United Kingdom.
What future would people from the Celtic nations see in the United Kingdom if they were barred from full citizenship? What advantage would the people of Wales see in the Union if they were denied proper representation as equals in Parliament? Most dangerously, that reckless Conservative proposal would generate constitutional chaos at the heart of the United Kingdom Government. With different parties holding different majorities on English issues and on UK issues, who would form the Government: the party with the British majority, or the party with the English majority? The reality is that the Government of Britain would become the Government of England. Wales, Scotland, and presumably Northern Ireland, would be denied a voice.
Adam Price: I share the Secretary of States enthusiasm for keeping the Tories out of power, both here and in Cardiff Bay. If Labour fails to win an outright majority, and the only way of ensuring a Tory-free Government in Cardiff Bay and the Assembly is to form a coalition with my party, would he be prepared to accept that as the lesser of two evils?
My direct answer to the hon. Gentleman is that we are campaigning for a majority Welsh Labour Government. As he has provoked me on that point, perhaps I might give a few quotes from his party
leaders. The leader of Plaid Cymru in the Welsh Assembly, Ieuan Wyn Jones, said in an interview:
I am perfectly prepared to lead a governmentan alternative government to Labourin the National Assembly.
I am perfectly willing to do that.
The only conceivable Opposition that Ieuan Wyn Jones wants to lead, as he told The Politics Show on BBC Wales on 10 December, is a Conservative-Liberal Democrat-Plaid Cymru coalition. That is the only alternative to Welsh Labour. After denying on Dragons Eye on BBC Wales on 22 February 2007 that Plaid Cymru would ever enter a Tory-led coalition, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy was challenged to rule it out categorically. His reply was very interesting:
We will keep our options open...We will have to see what happens after the elections in May.
Mr. Hain: If the hon. Lady provokes me, I shall happily cite Conservative views to support the fact that there is a conspiracy between the Opposition parties to create a grand coalition in opposition to Welsh Labour. I shall come on to that in a minute.
Mrs. Gillan: I am happy to intervene on the Secretary of State, who has been talking a lot of rubbish. We are the only party that wants to keep the United Kingdom as a united kingdom, and we want to make sure that there is a strong Wales within a strong United Kingdom. Will the Secretary of State comment on his call for the expenses of Assembly Members elected by proportional representation to be cut, because their job is easier? I believe that he was suggesting that we have two classes of politician in Wales.
Mr. Hain: The comparison is not relevant, but as the hon. Lady has asked me about the matter, I will say that I do not believe that list Members should be able to set up constituency offices in constituencies in which Assembly Members have been elected to do constituency work which is also undertaken by Members of Parliament. It is a matter for the Assembly: I was simply expressing my own view. As the hon. Lady has intervened to raise a matter originally raised by the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr, may I offer her some Conservative views on the question of a Tory-led coalition? Nick Bourne, the Welsh Tory leader, said on 6 October 2006:
There are discussions going on, of course there are, on an informal basis between parties about what is going to happen after the next election.
I do not intend to provoke the right hon. Gentleman, but I want to develop his logic. As he thinks that list Members should not have the right to set up offices or receive expenses at the same level as
Members elected on a first-past-the-post basis, I assume that he thinks that Members of Parliament who represent Welsh constituencies, some of whose responsibilities have been given to Wales, should not be paid on a par with English Members who retain all their responsibilities in the House.
Mr. Hain: The hon. Lady is getting into treacherous waters. We are all equally elected in the House to represent our constituents. The burden of the Tory argument, although they never mention itI wonder whyis to turn Welsh, Scottish and, presumably, Northern Irish MPs into second-class MPs, who would be denied an equal status in votes on matters that affect Parliament. List Members have equal status, voting and representative rights in the National Assembly, but they do not have the same constituency obligations. Why should they be on the same level as constituency Members? I am just expressing a personal opinion. It is not a matter for me, as it will be determined by Standing Orders and the subsequent protocol in the National Assembly for Wales.
Ten years after the people of Wales voted for devolution, there can be no doubt that Wales is going in the right direction. The spectre of industrial decline, unemployment and run-down public services that haunted Wales throughout the 1980s and 1990s has vanished. In its place, we have a vibrant and diverse economy. There are a record number of jobs, with 10 years of continuing growthnever before achieved in our history as a nationand public services are going from strength to strength. The choice is whether we continue with the economic stability, the partnership with Westminster and the public investment that have enabled Wales to be such a success story over the past 10 years, or whether we cast those advantages aside and risk all that we have achieved by placing Waless destiny in the hands of a Tory-led coalition. The plans for such a coalition are well laid. Nick Bourne, the Conservative leader in the Assembly
it is unrealistic to expect us to win an overall majority. In these circumstances, we and other non-Labour parties should be prepared to be pragmatic and work with others to achieve an agreed programme.
Just as we heard earlier the voice of the Welsh Nationalist leader in the Assembly, so we hear from the Welsh Conservative leader a prediction of his intention to form a coalition against Welsh Labour if it does not secure a majority. That is the choice for the people of Wales. The Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), far from denouncing that unholy alliance with the separatists, has said that he would
let Nick Bourne and his team decide.
Mr. Hain: I am ruling it out. There is no prospect of that at all. It is a matter for Rhodri Morgan and Welsh Labour Assembly Members, but I do not think that Welsh Labour would accept it. We shall leave the nationalists to get into bed with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, if that is what they want to do after the election and if the opportunity arises.
The risk of a Tory-led coalition, or a Tory-Plaid Cymru-Liberal Democrat coalition in any guise, would have enormous consequences for Wales. There would be a huge risk to the record jobs and prosperity delivered under Labour; a huge risk to continuing investment in schools and health delivered under Labour; a huge risk to Wales continuing to go in the right direction, as it has done under Labour; a huge risk for businesses, families, children, older people and sick people; and a huge risk for all the people of Wales. If the chaotic infighting and division that we witnessed during last Decembers budget fiasco were repeated in a Tory-led coalition Government, a cloud of uncertainty and instability would be cast over Wales. With such an atmosphere of risk, investors who flock to Wales would be driven away. Jobs that are now at a record high would disappear. Wales cannot afford to run such a huge risk.
That huge risk comes not just from voting for the Conservatives, but from voting for Plaid Cymru, for the Liberal Democrats, and, indeed, from staying at home. Over the past 18 months, we have witnessed a dress rehearsal for a Tory-led coalition in the Assembly. Week in, week out, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and the independents vote with the Tories to defeat the Welsh Labour Assembly Government. It is a short step from chaotic coalition in opposition to chaotic coalition in government. No wonder Plaid Cymru is trying to silence anyone who talks about its plans to join a Tory-led coalition, but its attempts to gag Welsh Labour and prevent us from talking about Plaids dodgy backroom deals with the Tories will not succeed. No amount of bluster can conceal the fact that Plaid Cymru is plotting to enter a Tory-led coalition. The leader of Plaid Cymru in the Assembly, Ieuan Wyn Jones, has even said, as I reported earlier, that he is perfectly prepared to lead an alternative coalition Government.
Hywel Williams: Will the Secretary of State confirm for the record that the agreement on the budget was made between his party and our party? It was not made between the Tories and us, between the Liberal Democrats and us, or between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. It was a Plaid Cymru-Labour agreement on the budget.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. This is turning into a hustings, rather than a debate on Welsh affairs, in which many hon. Members are waiting to participate. I suggest we steer back on to a straighter course.
Mr. Hain: Perish the thought that we might have our eye on the elections on 3 May, or that we might be saying anything from the Dispatch Box or elsewhere that has any connection with 3 May or the events afterwards.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): What the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) failed to say is that the Plaid Cymru Assembly group did not even vote on the Budget. They did not have the guts. They did not back the budget or oppose it, but used the opportunity to say that they supported some measures and did not support others.
Mr. Hain: That is correct. To reinforce my hon. Friends point, I remind the House that the previous week, the Plaid Cymru group talked for a few hours about forming an alternative GovernmentPlaid, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. Then it all fell apart. That is the prospect for Wales that I am warning about.
Lembit Öpik: I believe it is in order in a Welsh affairs debate to request an important clarification. Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the Government asked Plaid Cymru to abstain on the vote in question?
Mr. Hain: I have no idea about those discussions. I would expect any Assembly Member who claims credit for a budget going through the Assembly, as the hon. Member for Caernarfon has just done on behalf of his party, to have had the guts to vote for it.
Far from denying that he would put the Tories back into government, Ieuan Wyn Jones, the Plaid Cymru leader, is putting himself forward as Plaids answer to Ramsay MacDonald. So let there be no doubt that the groundwork for a Tory-led coalition in Wales has been laid, and sanctioned from the very top, with the Leader of the Opposition giving Nick Bourne his full supporta Faustian pact between the Tories and the separatists, selling the soul of Wales for power and for office.
The only way to stop that happening is for the people of Wales on 3 May to support continued partnership between Wales and Westminster with Welsh Labour and Rhodri Morgan in the leadership. A vote for Plaid Cymru will be a vote to put the Tories in power. A vote for the Liberal Democrats will be a vote to put the Tories in power. But if people vote Labour, they will get Labour. [Interruption.] The choice is between continued economic stability and record public investment under Labour, and a Tory-led coalition running our schools and hospitals. I am confident that the people of Wales will not put their future at risk, or put at risk the progress of the past 10 years. With strong leadership, partnership and hard work, Wales is continuing to head in the right direction, building a better Wales under Labour.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|