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1 Mar 2007 : Column 1130

Wales is also home to a wide range of green industries. Entrepreneurs such as Dulas in Montgomeryshire have developed domestic and portable microgeneration units and devices. Intersolar in Bridgend has developed solar energy roof tiles and G24i in Cardiff has developed a highly adaptable solar foil. I hope that Ministers will work to ensure that every effort is made to inform the DTI of the full contribution that Wales could make to the new ETI. I ask the Minister to confirm that he will urge his colleague to attend a showcase event taking place at the CAT later this year, showcasing Welsh green industries, research bodies and non-governmental organisations that could be in line for receiving funds under the ETI and other DTI programmes.

I was also interested to hear of the recent High Court ruling on the Government’s conduct during their energy review. Certainly, the consensus among Welsh stakeholders was in line with the judge’s ruling that the Government had not been open and transparent in their information on nuclear power during the process. We need to restore confidence in the energy review process among Welsh stakeholders in order to avoid the mistakes of the past. I do not like nuclear power, but we cannot afford a failed consultation process that makes it look as if the Government have already made up their mind, as apparently the Prime Minister has, without really listening to what the public want. Nothing can be more pointless than a pretend consultation and a predetermined outcome.

I am disappointed that the Government have decided to delay the introduction of the climate change Bill. Taking action on climate change is something that we all talk about as a matter of urgency. Wales would undoubtedly benefit. What discussions has the Minister had about a timetable for the introduction of that Bill?

Mention of the Severn estuary has already been made. It can provide all of Wales’ energy and one twentieth of the UK’s energy. I simply underline the need not to discount the tidal lagoon technology, which may or may not be better than the Severn barrage. I strongly urge Ministers to have a second look at it. Such technologies could have a fruitful future. It is argued that tidal lagoons could have less environmental impact than a barrage, so I ask only that we have a sensible debate rather than assuming that a barrage would be better than lagoons.

The House is expecting a White Paper on the marine Bill and I hope that the Wales Office has worked with colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry on the potential for Wales to maximise cost-effective electricity generation off the coast of Wales from all forms of renewable marine technology. As a nation, we must discuss the level of coastal protection that Wales can expect in the foreseeable future, in light of rising sea levels and an increased number of storms. We should seize the chance to combine coastal protection measures and renewable marine technologies in a forward-thinking, cost-effective, joined-up strategy to protect the Welsh coast and generate clean energy. My concern is that although the Government talk warmly about environmental strategies they do not always join them up, so we end up with missed opportunities, or half-finished projects, which conflict with one another for funding.

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In conclusion, the Welsh Liberal Democrats aim to deliver a holistic healthy Wales, with healthy communities, healthy people and a healthy and environmentally sustainable economy. We are committed to a healthy Wales because we know that it is possible, so if that is what Wales wants it is exactly what Wales will get by voting for the Liberal Democrats in May. We started on that programme when we were in government, and I hope we proved that we were effective in helping to serve Wales in a way that genuinely added value to the quality of life of our Welsh citizens; so if that is what the Welsh people want, I hope that in May they will vote for the Liberal Democrats, who promise to deliver it.

3.11 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I hope that before the end of the debate one of my more gallant friends will give you a daffodil, Madam Deputy Speaker— [ Interruption. ] I now see that you are already wearing a daffodil, but perhaps one of my hon. Friends will offer you a larger one.

It is more than 25 years since I was a Member of the European Parliament, but I recall that we were often given only three minutes to make a speech. It is amazing how much can be said in three minutes. Back Benchers have a time limit this afternoon, although I hope to be much briefer than that. It seems a long time since we discussed the length of Front-Bench speeches in the House, and it is time we did so. I have sat on the Front Bench, but I know, too, that one of the most irritating things for Back Benchers is for Front Bench speakers to go on too long—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]—and my criticism applies to both sides of the House.

I want to thank the Wales Office, because there are many good news stories in Wales, although we would not think so from listening to the Welsh media and reading the Welsh press. Many column inches are devoted to disasters, such as the loss of X hundred jobs. However, this week we have saved 500 jobs in Wales at Ferrari, which is based in my constituency and has shops throughout south Wales. I am grateful to the Wales Office for its assistance, to the Welsh Assembly, my AM colleague, Christine Chapman, and the representative of the bakers union, John Jones, who was optimistic throughout—he was certainly more optimistic than me. I am pleased to welcome the new owner of Ferrari, Cameron Gunn, who is Australian.

I must say that, were it not for the assistance of the Wales Office, and some of the Ministers and officials in particular, we would have had great difficulty. It has meant a lot of hard work, but we have done it quietly and persistently. Every day, and sometimes all of every day, we have been talking to prospective buyers and to people who could assist them. It is a considerable success that 500 jobs have been saved throughout south Wales. The bakery is in Hirwaun in my constituency. Some of the workers have worked in the bakery for 30 years and sometimes whole families have worked there. I am particularly glad for them, because they knew that they had a good product. I kept telling them, “While the customers continue to buy, the workers will
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continue to bake,” and they have continued to bake, despite the threat hanging over them.

The Ferrari family started baking in south Wales in 1925. Like many other successful immigrants at the time, the Ferraris came from Italy, on boats used for trading Italian timber, which was needed to support the mines of south Wales. The family originally came from the Bardi region and worked as miners when they arrived in south Wales, until they saw the gap in the market and became some of the earliest café owners, along with Sid Doli’s ice cream, Benny’s cafés and many other well-known brands. The company was one of the many examples of the integration and success of migrant families, in an area famous for early integration.

The other subject that I want to talk about briefly is homelessness. I am doing so in a non-partisan way. As somebody who has not been faced with the problem of homelessness in my constituency, to my knowledge, for a long time as a Member of Parliament, I have been shocked recently in Cardiff to see people sitting on the streets, by lifts, wrapped up in blankets, begging. I had conversations with some of those young people and asked what they are doing there and why they are not in some kind of accommodation. Each time, they told me, “The hostels are full.” I find it disgraceful that, in 2007, we should still be faced with homeless people in our communities. Some, of course, are homeless from choice and there will always be people like that in our community. Other people are homeless because they have quarrelled with their parents, or they cannot afford the rent and have lost their tenancy. There are all sorts of reasons.

The situation was brought home to me a few weeks ago by an 18-year-old girl in my constituency. She did not have any previous problems. She was thrown out by her mother and, after some months of living with her boyfriend’s family, she found that she had no alternative but to go out on to the streets to sleep. I was shocked when I discovered that my local council, Rhondda Cynon Taf, was unable to provide accommodation for her because she was not considered to be a priority need as defined by Assembly legislation—despite the fact that she was a vulnerable young woman, sleeping rough on the streets at a time when the police in Aberdare were searching for a man who had committed a serious sexual attack against a woman in broad daylight in the same town only a few days previously.

I was even more shocked to discover that there is not one direct access hostel in my constituency. The nearest one is in Pontypridd and has only 10 beds to deal with the 560 referrals it received last year. For those, mostly young, people who have nowhere to go and who do not meet the priority guidelines, there are few alternatives, certainly in rural and semi-urban areas, other than the sofas of friends and the streets. According to Shelter Cymru, over recent years more people than ever have experienced homelessness in Wales. Recorded homelessness in Wales has been at record levels: more than 20,000 people, 7,000 of whom were dependent children and who were accepted by local councils as homeless in 2005.

Shelter Cymru dealt with 18,632 housing problems last year. There is obviously a need for more suitable accommodation for people who lose their tenancies,
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but that goes only part of the way to solving the problem. There is certainly a lack of emergency, direct-access accommodation, which is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. In my view more could be done to help people retain their tenancies by providing supported accommodation for those who need it, and social services and tenancy support services. In that way we could greatly reduce the numbers who come through the doors of our local housing advice centres and hostels, and who line our pavements and sleep in our parks.

I commend the work of the Welsh Assembly. It has been much more progressive on this issue than the equivalent authorities in England. The Assembly has really tried to address homelessness and done a great deal to implement preventive measures. However, there needs to be yet more emphasis on such measures, including mediation between parents and children. It is crucial that housing associations, independent housing charities and other services work more closely together. Most people come into contact with the health service and social services before becoming homeless, and it is vital that those services address homelessness at that stage. In addition, there must be an increase in the number of drug and alcohol rehabilitation places, which is still disgracefully low. There must also be increased practical support and training, and emotional support for vulnerable groups such as care leavers and prison leavers.

Let me end on an optimistic note, which is that in my constituency, as in many others in Wales, the percentage of people unemployed has almost halved over the past 10 years. That is a tremendous success, and I compliment my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on helping to achieve it.

3.23 pm

Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): It is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). She speaks with an enormous amount of experience and wisdom.

There is simply no better day than 1 March for a debate on the key issues facing the great nation of Wales. It is timely, too, coming just a couple of months before the Assembly elections, when voters in Wales will have an opportunity to give their verdicts on the Administration here in London and the Labour Administration in Cardiff. My fear for those elections, though, is that the vast majority of voters in Wales will be either too disillusioned or too uninterested to vote at all. For those who do vote, it will be an opportunity to participate in a referendum on the key issues affecting their lives. I do not believe that Welsh people think narrowly about which issues are devolved and which are the responsibility of Westminster; they think about the issues that they care about. The opening remarks of the Secretary of State notwithstanding, on many of the key issues affecting the Welsh people, unfortunately their verdict will be that the Government have failed.

Before I go into depth on those issues, it is probably worth taking a moment to reflect on St. David’s day. St. David, of course, has strong Pembrokeshire connections of which we are very proud. He had many miracles attributed to him, the most incredible of which was performed when he was preaching at the
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Synod of Llandewi Brefi, where he caused the ground to rise beneath him so that everybody there could see and hear him. I make no such claims for my own powers. We in Pembrokeshire are fond of our association with St. David. It is good to see so many right hon. and hon. Members sporting daffodils today. I love that flower; it is a happy, confident, optimistic-looking flower, rather like the new Conservative party. Of course, wearing daffodils on 1 March is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Mr. Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman’s is wilting.

Mr. Crabb: It is still standing proud. The preferred symbol was, for many years, the leek. The sixth-century Welsh poet, Taliesin, was a great fan of the leek, believing that, if eaten, it encouraged good health and happiness. Whatever the origins of all the quirky practices of St. David’s day, such as the wearing of leeks or daffodils, they are part of the fabric of our heritage. They are the things that help to bind us together as a nation.

Some hon. Members present will be familiar with my views on St. David’s day. I think that it is a special and unique day in the school calendar in Wales. I have respect for Members of all parties who believe that St. David’s day should be a public holiday, but I believe that it is at its best when celebrated in schools. Next week, the Western Telegraph Pembrokeshire and the Milford and West Wales Mercury in my local area will be full of beautiful photographs of little Welsh girls wearing national costume, and lads wearing Welsh rugby shirts, daffodils or leeks. The schools are where St. David’s day is celebrated best. I make a plea to Front Benchers on both sides of the House to resist calls for St. David’s day to be a public holiday. It should remain a special day for Welsh schools.

Albert Owen: I certainly believe that St. David’s day should be, and is, a special day, but if the schools argument is the strongest one that the hon. Gentleman has, I point out that kids in schools throughout Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom celebrate Christmas at school. There are lovely photos in the newspapers about Christmas, and schools have a nativity play on days other than Christmas day. The argument has to go beyond Wales; we should make St. George’s day and St. Andrew’s day public holidays, too, so that there is a level playing field, and so that we can celebrate the diversity of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Crabb: I hear the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but I have talked to many teachers and parents in my constituency who are enormously supportive of keeping 1 March a normal school day. If it was a public holiday, and if we asked schools to celebrate St. David’s day on an alternative day, the opportunities for Welsh children to learn about their national heritage would be reduced. That is just my point of view.

Burberry was mentioned earlier in a cheap attempt to suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) and I are unsympathetic to the Burberry workers who are losing their jobs. It is a tragedy for those workers who face redundancy.
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Anybody who grew up in a household in which there has been worklessness will know what a tragedy unemployment can be.

Mr. Touhig: I was simply quoting The Guardian. I take it that, if its report was wrong, the hon. Gentleman has instructed his solicitors to take action.

Mr. Crabb: On Tuesday, the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs held an inquiry into the closure of the Treorchy plant. It involved robust questioning of the management of Burberry and of representatives of the GMB. I do not recall seeing the right hon. Gentleman there, but a lot of people who were present will have made up their minds about the quality of evidence presented by the GMB and the Burberry management.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis), who originally suggested holding an inquiry on globalisation and its impact on Wales. It was a timely recommendation, given the Burberry situation and Tata’s takeover of Corus, and the Committee is finding the inquiry worth while. I applaud the campaigning skills of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who, along with others, has helped to generate a very effective publicity campaign on behalf of Burberry workers. However, it is not simply a question of whether one is against the workers at the Burberry factory and pro-management, or against the management. It is much more complex, as it goes to the heart of the challenges of globalisation and the way in which they impact on Wales.

I was interested to read in the press comments by various celebrities involved in the campaign. I do not question the sincerity of their remarks about Burberry, but if they genuinely wish to contribute to the debate about globalisation and the challenges facing Welsh manufacturers, as well as making critical comments about Burberry management they should ask difficult questions about what is happening to our skills base, the quality of science education in this country and a range of difficult issues. The battle of globalisation will be won or lost on whether the country can innovate and whether our education and skills base is of sufficient quality.

The article in The Western Mail this morning said:

Education and skills standards in Wales remain some of the worst in the UK, and the gap between English and Welsh standards is widening, which is a national scandal. The number of young people not in full-time education, employment or training is higher in Wales than it was in 1997. Those youngsters have fallen through the net of employment and training. The Prince’s Trust in Wales says that 100,000 young people in Wales are simply doing nothing. Across the UK, about 1.25 million 15 to 24-year-olds are not in education, employment or training, which is a national scandal. Exclusions, unauthorised absences and truancy in Welsh schools have all risen in recent years, and that is part of the challenge that we must address if we are to succeed in facing up to the issue of
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globalisation and the extent to which the Welsh and British economies can continue to prosper and succeed in a globalised world.

Burdens on UK businesses are relevant, too. The cumulative burden of new regulation on Welsh firms since 1998 comes to £2.2 billion, which is an enormous sum for a small economy such as Wales. That figure is based on the Government’s own regulatory impact assessment.

Those are not my words, but the words of the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce. Many small companies in Wales, which are the job creators of the Welsh economy, face huge burdens.

It is important that we face up to the challenges of globalisation. It is not just about maintaining our quality of life but about ensuring that we maintain high-quality public services. We have discussed the challenge of climate change, which is one of the key challenges of our time. A key domestic challenge concerns our ability to maintain high-quality public services. In peripheral rural areas of Wales such as Pembrokeshire, critical public services have been eroded, which may be a pointer to the way in which things will develop across the board. Under Labour—the party that claims to be the founder of the NHS—NHS dentistry in Wales has been allowed to wither and, in some parts of the country, services have been decimated.

Nia Griffith: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that only a couple of weeks ago Mill Lane dental surgery in Llanelli had its official opening? That brand new, state-of-the-art dental surgery offers the services of five NHS dentists to a town that encompasses 12,000 residents.

Mr. Crabb: Anyone would welcome five new dentists but, given the shortfall across Wales, that addition is a drop in the ocean. Someone in Pembrokeshire who has access to an NHS dentist is a lucky individual indeed, as the vast majority of people are forced to go private. My constituents have every right to ask why they cannot claim back from the public purse the additional costs that they incur by using a private dentist because NHS provision in their area no longer exists.

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