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What makes my constituents doubly angry about the situation is that they believed the pledge made by the Prime Minister in 1999, when he said that within the next two years everyone would once again be able to see an NHS dentist. They believed that stuff. In Preseli Pembrokeshire in 1997 they supported the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) in droves. The previous Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire was elected with a 9,000 Labour majority. The people of Preseli Pembrokeshire were part of the enormous bank of good will that the Prime Minister inherited in 1997 and which sustained him in his first months in office.
He pocketed their good will and has given them nothing in return. They feel badly let down.
People are instinctively generous, I believe. They will forgive honest mistakes. They will even be tolerant of policies that they do not support but which are implemented with integrity. However, they will not forgive false and broken promises. The same pattern of broken promises and lack of transparency is apparent in the proposals to decimate the network of tax and revenue offices in Wales. I have a letter dated 28 July last year from the Paymaster General, in which she stated:
There are no current plans for closure of Haverfordwest or any other offices in West Wales.
I hope your constituents will find this letter helpful.
No, they did not find the letter helpful, because just months down the line they are staring at a massive programme of HMRC office closures, which will lead to the loss of about 70 high quality jobs in my constituency.
We see the same pattern in respect of Withybush hospital, the main district general hospital in my constituency. Time and again my constituents are given specific promises and assurances, from the Dispatch Box or in writing from Ministers, which appear utterly worthless weeks or months later. I refer specifically to an assurance that was given in November 2005 about the future of Withybush hospital by the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, who said:
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there are no plans whatever to downgrade Withybush hospital. The generous additional funding that that and many other trusts throughout Wales have receivedthe local health board in Pembrokeshire has received a 28 per cent. increase in the past three yearsmeans that they should be able to manage.[ Official Report, 30 November 2005; Vol. 440, c. 250.]
Just weeks after that statement was made at the Dispatch Box, proposals were published recommending the closure or the radical downgrading of my local district general hospital. What are local people supposed to make of that?
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Towards the end of her speech, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) was unwise enough to mention a constituent of mine, whom she quoted as an exemplar of a politician in Wales, the young man whom all others should follow. She thought he was elected, but he is a nominated member of council. I think it is my duty to inform the House a little more about this person. I would not mention him normally. I know that his inspiration in politics is the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), so there is a certain poverty of ambition there.
As the young man has been cited as typifying the brave new world that the Conservatives are offering, we should know a little more about him. He has been kind enough to inform us about himself on the splendid
MySpace website. He is remarkably frank. He gives a potted history of his life. He states:
Ive evolved from a little whining pussy to a thrill seeking wreckhead to a Conservative who still loves the wreckups.
Have you stolen anything this month?
and he said yes. He was asked about his ambitions in life, and he said his ambition was politics. Asked why he wanted to go into politics, he said that he wanted it for the power, the flash suits and the money. Here we have a young man who may well become a bit of a cult figure, or a hero
David T.C. Davies: I have never seen the website and I do not really know the gentleman myself. I presume that there could be something ironic in what he says: if he is after power, money and flash suits, he will not want to follow me on to the Back Benches, as he will not see much of any of those from where I am sitting.
Paul Flynn: It is painful for me to recall my own experience when I was first elected. The first school I visited was Bassaleg school in my constituency. I was discussing politics in the sixth form and I recall one particularly difficult memberhe might have something in common with the young man I have mentionedwho was a bit of a troublemaker in the class. I advised him, in my generous way of helping young people, that the best thing to do in life was to take up politics. That young member is in his place opposite as the hon. Member for Monmouth, so I regard that as the worst political mistake of my life. [Hon. Members: Its your fault!]
Mr. Llwyd: Before the hon. Gentleman moves off this subject, may I say one word on behalf of the individual from Monmouth to whom the hon. Gentleman referred? At least he is more honest about drugs than the leader of the Conservative party, is he not?
I shall mention three other young people in my constituency, whom I remember had some distinctionRichard Whittaker, Adam Brustad and James Sadler, who will be performing in the Meze Lounge tonight a newly written song called Land of my Mothers, which is part of the political agenda. There is even a song called, Lebanon is Burning and another one about Animal Farm. Those are three splendid idealistic young men, marvellous examples of their generation, who believe in things other than what this gentleman I have quoted believes indrugs, theft, wreck-ups, smart suits and making money. There is an optimistic side, and if people want an exemplar of what young people can achieve, they would be better off in the Meze Lounge in Newport tonight, listening to the first performance of Land of my Mothers.
There are just two points that I would like to contribute to the debate. The first is about pensions in Wales, one of my long-standing interests. The Pensions Bill is currently before Parliament, and I want to congratulate the new Labour Government on introducing the classic Labour policy of linking pensions with earnings. Sadly, that will not happen until 2012.
Yesterday I received an astonishing answer from the Government about the state of the national insurance fund, which has to have a contingency fund within it. It is set at 16.7 per cent. The money in the fund as a balanceabove what is requiredis 62.3 per cent.nearly four times what the contingency should be. The contingency has never been used in recent years. If unemployment doubled, for example, it would be necessary to use it. Thus we already have in the national insurance fund £38 billion, accounting for the 62.3 per cent. figure that I mentioned.
The question I asked yesterday was what the balance would be in 2012. The answer was the astonishing figure of £74 billion. We have to think about an amount like £74 billionway over what is required for a contingency. Thus the link between pensions and earnings could be restored tomorrow. The great Bill going through Parliament will restore that link eventually and will greatly benefit women, reducing the period of entitlement for pensions from 39 years to 30 years. However, the answer I received is based on that happening. It is happening soon, so why wait until 2012?
I urge the Government to reconsider the measure, because pensioners want the restoration of that link. In our 10 years in government, I believe that we have had an honourable record. Although the link was not restored, which was a great shame, the other changes madethe pension credit, winter fuel allowance and other allowanceshave made up for that. The amount that has been given to pensioners in that time is equivalent to what would have been given if we had restored the link in 1997. The pensioners who need the link restored and the extra money are the ones who were robbed almost every year from 1980 by the previous Government, who made a yearly salami cut in pensions increases by increasing pensions according to prices, not earnings.
I hope that the Government will reconsider that issue in the Pensions Bill. When the Public Administration
Committee talked to the civil service colleges about the changes in social security legislation that have taken place in the past 20 years, the point was made that in the 1980s and early 1990s, such legislation was made by putting a finger in the air, finding which way the wind was blowing and doing what was politically correct. After an examination of the evidence, the basis of the Turner report and so on, the Pensions Bill is introducing a policy that I believe should command all sections of the House in the same way as Barbara Castles policy did in 1975. There is a chance of working together, but I believe that the amount in the account is now at such a level that we can look for a speedy restoration of the link and not wait until 2012.
On civil service jobs, I am speaking from a position of success in Newport. I recall a story told to me by an American business man who had settled in Wales and received a visit from a journalist from the west coast of America who was looking to write an article about footloose industry and see whether Wales was a suitable place to relocate. She told the business man that she had three questions about Wales as a place for new industry. The questions were along these lines: Are there problems with the pollution from the coal mines and steelworks?, Is it true that if somebody does not speak Welsh, their neighbours are likely to burn down their house? and Is it true that social life is poor because the pubs and cinemas are shut on Sundays? My American friend said, Goodness me, is this what they think about Wales on the west coast of America? The journalist said, No; this is what they told me about Wales when I asked them in London yesterday.
I believe that one of the greatest obstacles that we have to getting jobs into Wales is the perception not on the other side of the world, but in England. When there was a vote to get the Patent Office into Newport, the choice was between there and Norwich; I would be embarrassed to say how few people chose Newport. That relocation is now the example quoted in the Lyons review as a great success. People came in great numbers, and although they had to be dragged kicking and screaming, they settled happily and liked the area and surroundings, and felt that the whole ethos of life was superior. Those people have stayed since and are now living out their retirement years there, so the project was a huge success. New skills have been learned in the city. Where people were stevedores, coal trimmers, puddlers and sample passers, their grandchildren are now the statisticians and patent examiners. A great transformation has taken place.
We have built up this huge centre of excellence in relocated civil service jobs. It would be ironic if there were now a move out of the city and we lost jobs in Her Majestys Revenue and Customs, because it now has 4,000 civil servants and is becoming a mini-Whitehall; those civil service jobs have replaced the jobs that were lost, and it is right that they should be there.
I believe that there is a strong case to be made against the idea of centralising the organisation, perhaps in three sections in Wales. It is currently spread throughout Wales, and I have great sympathy with what the last speaker said about that. We need more than just small face-to-face areas where people can see civil servants. As we heard, HMRC receives a high level of complaints through its call centres. People like to
have a face-to-face interview. There are other factors. In Newport we have a very high number of immigrants and other people whose first languages are neither English nor Welsh. That creates difficulties, although there is a section dealing with employers that has a specialist network.
There is a strong argument for keeping these centres going. I understand the pressures that have arisen. Now that the two sectionsInland Revenue and Customshave come together, they have a certain amount of excess space. There is a powerful case for saying that they must not waste that space and must put it to proper use. I make a plea for maintaining those sections in Pontypool and Newport and letting them grow so that we can build up a public service ethos that was not there to such an extent before, but is now part of the prosperous future for all of Wales.
Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn). I hope that the segment in his speech in which he attempted to raise the consciousness of metropolitan minds beyond this Chamber as to our contemporary Welsh reality is featured on Today in Parliament. He certainly gets my vote.
We are on the cusp of a very exciting phase in Welsh politicsnot before time, some would say. The Government of Wales Act 2006 gives us an opportunity to secure a comprehensive set of powers in order to transform the quality of life of the people of Wales. Although it is limited in breadth and somewhat complicated in naturequasi-legislative powers is not something that we would write on our bannersit gives us the opportunity to move forward. We would like it to be extended, because certain important areas of public life and public policy need to be addressed.
As has already been flagged up in that august publication, The Western Mail, I want to concentrate my remarks on the issue of policing and youth justice, which has been mentioned by several Members, including the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). After the March elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly, the National Assembly for Wales will be the only devolved institution that does not have some responsibility for the criminal justice system and policing, which is being devolved in Northern Ireland.
The Assembly has some responsibility for crime prevention, broadly because of its responsibilities in health, education, housing and so on, and more specifically because of its involvement in areas such as community safety partnerships, domestic abuse, youth work and substance abuse, and its part-funding of the police service in Wales. That overlap means that it is now time to devolve aspects of the criminal justice system, starting with policing and youth justice, where there are clearly matching powers. The right hon. Member for Torfaen mentioned the Home Office, and the review of the splitting of its functions makes this an appropriate time to consider how the National Assembly fits in with the proposed new structure.
Although Wales is not immune to influences across the whole United Kingdom in terms of serious
organised crime and terrorism, the pattern of crime is different from that in England. We do not yet have the problem of gang-related gun crime, although I take on board the comments of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). The pattern of crime is more opportunistic than organised, and on a smaller scale. Because of that, we need a different approach akin to that taken in other small countries such as Finland, or that which has been taken in Northern Ireland over the past decade.
We need a new approach, because to some extent the current approach is failing and is not as effective as it could be. I do not regard the high imprisonment rate in the UK as a symbol of success but a symbol of failure. That is not the fault of the current Government alone; it is deeply embedded, and is the fault of successive Governments. The rate is 50 per cent. higher than in France, and 100 times higher than in Finland, believe it or not.
Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman may be coming to this, but does he agree that that is partly because of the abject failure to deal in any coherent and empathic way with the problem of drug addiction in this country? That is all the more ironic given that we were pretty much the model for the rest of the world until about 1974. Until the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the British Government were pursuing fairly strategically coherent policies.
We know that criminalising young children...is generally counter-productive.
In some circumstances where young people and children are guilty of grave crimes, they need to be put in a secure closed environment, but for most children and young people it is criminogenicit makes them more likely to commit crimes when they come out than if other interventions had been used. The particular problem of which we are all aware in Wales is that 84 per cent. of children and young people from Wales are imprisoned in England. This month, the Parc youth offender institution is, supposedly, expanding its number of beds from 34 to 64, but that increase has already been swallowed up by the increase in the number of young people and children in Wales in prison. According to evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee, the number went up 25 per cent. in just six months last year. That is the pattern across England and Wales. The number of children in prison has doubled over the past decade. Most of the young people and children in Wales are in Ashfield, yet the Youth Justice Board has a target that 90 per cent. of all children should be within 50 miles of their home. It is scandalousand I know that that view is widely shared across the spectrum.
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