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However, that applies only in England—the Welsh Assembly does its own thing and has said that it will not pay for treatment not approved by NICE.

The treatment that my constituent needs costs £15,000. Health Commission Wales is prepared, in effect, to sentence a man to death for that amount of money by saying that it is not prepared to offer
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treatment that has not been approved by NICE. That is despite the fact that one of the UK’s leading cancer specialists maintains that the treatment works, and that it has worked on this gentleman in the past. That is a shocking state of affairs, and proves that the NHS does not extend to the UK’s regions, where people get a second-class health service.

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I am sure that hon. Members of all parties have similar stories. Is it not paradoxical that the Welsh Assembly, which appears to operate under financial constraints when it comes to the treatment that he has described, considers it appropriate to devote £30 million to free prescriptions for all patients, regardless of whether they need them?

David T.C. Davies: That is an important point. It is strange that I, a Member of Parliament, can get free prescriptions when others cannot. I hope that the Minister and the Secretary of State will take up the case that I have reported, as my constituent will be dead in a very short time if no one is prepared to fund his treatment.

That is the background to my opposition to calls for extra powers for the Welsh Assembly. I strongly disagree with Plaid Cymru’s calls for policing and justice to be devolved. Putting to one side questions about whether the Assembly could do a better job and the constitutional issues involved, I tend to agree with what the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) said about involving the Assembly in such matters, rather then devolving them to it. I like to think that I know a little bit about policing. I completed the parliamentary scheme, and some of the training needed to become a special constable. We all agree that terrorism and organised crime are the two big problems that we face, but the proposal to make Wales’ four police authorities answerable to a body that is not the same as the one to which England’s 39 are answerable will not make it easier to tackle either.

I also take issue with Plaid Cymru’s attitude to our armed forces. There are differences in this House about whether we should have gone into Iraq and about our involvement in Afghanistan, but most hon. Members want to support our armed forces. Both the Territorial Army and the Royal Engineers have bases in my constituency—many of their personnel have been in Iraq, or indeed are still there—and I will do everything that I can, wholeheartedly, to support them. I am shocked by calls from Plaid Cymru to keep the military out of schools. We should be celebrating our armed services; we should be encouraging school pupils to join the armed forces, to go out and get a trade and to get specialist skills of the sort that we very much need in Wales. It is a shocking state of affairs when people make such calls.

The Government cannot cover themselves with much glory, either. Our armed forces are not always earning even the minimum wage, especially when they are out on deployment. They come back to accommodation that is sub-standard and would not be suitable in some cases for people who have newly arrived in this country. So the Government have to do a lot more if they want to support the armed services—
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not simply talk about it, but ensure that they are properly paid and properly housed.

We had a few bizarre history lessons earlier. I was writing down some of the things that the Secretary of State for Wales said about the previous Conservative Government and I am afraid I simply did not recognise the picture that he painted. I was born in 1970, so I cannot remember the late 1960s when twice as many coal mines were shut down by Labour than were ever shut down by Mrs. Thatcher’s Administration—twice as many in four years, I believe, as Mrs. Thatcher in eight. Of course, that is something that the National Union of Mineworkers, the Labour party and the trade unions would rather forget about.

I can remember in 1979 walking past the Royal Gwent hospital, where there was a strike going on. People could not get into hospital because the hospitals were all out on strike. I remember being told by my parents that at the same time dead people could not be buried because the gravediggers were out on strike. The streets could not be cleaned because the roadsweepers were out on strike. The whole country ground to a halt in 1979 and the Prime Minister did not even seem to realise when he came back from the Caribbean that there was some sort of crisis.

The Government try to sell a good story to us. Now they talk about inflation. Of course the figures look low because they do not take into account house prices, council tax and all the other things that people need. Of course the unemployment figures look good because everyone is signing on the sick, which is a very good way of covering up things. Everyone has got a bad back or they are stressed. Of course, the headline figure for income tax looks low because they have allowed everyone to come into the higher tax bracket and they have taxed everything that moves.

The Government talk about their commitment to human rights. What sort of a Government are they who cannot deport serial rapists to Somalia, but can spend £10,000 chartering a jet to pick up a load of people who have been fighting with a terrorist organisation, bring them back to Britain and release them a few hours later to walk the streets, probably even backdating their benefit payments as well? I have no doubt those people are planning their next sojourn to the jihadi front line.

Mr. David: May I ask the hon. Gentleman this question?

Chris Ruane: What is he on?

Mr. David: No, my question is slightly different. The hon. Gentleman will remember that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), when he was Secretary of State for Wales, returned some moneys from Wales to London. Would the hon. Gentleman have been in favour of that?

David T.C. Davies: I do not believe that that happened. I think that the hon. Gentleman will discover that what the former Secretary of State for Wales did was a technical accounting trick that allowed him to draw down money for a road scheme that would
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otherwise have gone back to the Treasury automatically because it would not have been spent during that financial year as surveys were still being done. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that my right hon. Friend did an excellent job in improving transport links to deprived valley constituencies so that real inward investment could go in and real jobs could be created.

The fact of the matter is that the Welsh Assembly under Labour has failed in virtually every area where it has policy control. The last thing that we need to do is to give it further powers. The message to the people of Wales at the Assembly elections is, “If you support the health service, if you want to see improvements in education and transport and, above all, if you want to stop the outrageous increases in council tax that have been going on over the past seven years—160 per cent.—vote Conservative at the next Assembly elections.”

4.29 pm

Mr. Martin Caton (Gower) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), if only because it means that he has finished ranting.

I enjoyed the Secretary of State’s opening remarks and especially appreciated his emphasis on the need to tackle climate change. I agree with that priority, so I take this opportunity to recommend to the Wales Office team my private Member’s Bill, which would enable local planning authorities to set higher standards for energy efficiency and low carbon energy sources in their development plans than those in building regulations. The Bill is supported by the Welsh Local Government Association and 270 Members. I am sure that when my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Wales Office have studied it they, too, will be enthusiastic supporters. Perhaps they could have a word with their colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government and persuade them to give the Bill a fair wind from now on.

On St. David’s day, 2007, it is appropriate to look back over the decade since the Labour Government came to power. It is absolutely true, as the Secretary of State said, that an enormous amount has been achieved that has markedly improved the lives of the people of Wales, especially the least well off. Today, my constituency of Gower is a different place from what it was in 1997, when it suffered the scourge of high unemployment, especially among the young, scandalously low rates of pay and acute poverty for a fair proportion of older constituents, and when there was a sense, especially in the old mining and steel villages, of being in an irreversible downward spiral.

That has all changed. People’s lives have improved, thanks in no small part to the actions of the Labour Government and the Welsh Assembly Government. However, I do not want simply to trumpet those successes.

Hywel Williams: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Caton: I am sorry but I shall not give way, because if I take less than the allotted time, everybody else will be able to speak.


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Central to the concerns of my constituents is the provision of public services, with particular concern about the UK Government’s apparent attitude towards the future delivery of the services for which they are still responsible in Wales. People in Wales are surprised and alarmed that a Labour Government, again and again, look to the use of the private sector and free market competition to provide what have always been regarded as core public sector service responsibilities. People are conscious, and grateful, that Wales has not experienced the worst of that approach in the health and education sectors, because responsibility for them is devolved and the Welsh Assembly Government are not following the English lead, with trust hospitals and schools and the establishment of winner and loser competitions where patients and children are the potential losers.

The National Assembly is to be congratulated on taking quite a different approach, which is based on honouring the public service ethos, building on it and developing services around the strong sense of community, mutuality and local ownership that still exists in Wales. That is the right way forward and I hope the Assembly sticks to it. I am sure it will.

Vital public service functions delivered in Wales are still the responsibility of UK Departments, however, where enthusiasm for moving to a commissioner and contractor structure appears to be strong, even though it is justified by precious little evidence. Like many colleagues, I was contacted by a considerable number of probation workers living in my constituency who cannot understand the rationale for abolishing the national probation service, only to replace it with a competitive market that will take away local accountability in the process. After yesterday’s vote on the Offender Management Bill, I fear that there will be a marked reduction in the quality of service, with the real danger of an increase in reoffending.

Similarly, I have been lobbied by employees at the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency in Swansea who believe that preparations are under way to throw them to the market to reduce costs. Their fear and their belief is that that will be achieved by a diminution in standards if the consultants’ investigations recommend wholesale outsourcing, as they suspect. We have already seen what has happened to the Ministry of Defence in Llangennech, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), where some of my constituents work. Jobs are being rationalised away on the most dubious grounds.

I shall concentrate my brief remarks on what is happening to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in Wales, to which the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) have already referred. The staff of HMRC are disillusioned and angry about what is being done to their service and are trying to secure change before it is too late.

The HMRC is of course a fairly new creation, combining the responsibilities of the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise. Even before the merger, both the old departments had undergone considerable reorganisation, but nothing had prepared the civil servants for the announcement on 16 November last year of the department’s intention to shed 25,000 jobs across the UK by 2011, closing hundreds of local
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offices in the process. If that goes ahead, the impact in Wales will be particularly acute, with something like 1,000 jobs at risk. Threatened with closure are the Aberystwyth office, the Haverfordwest office, the Holyhead office, the Llanelli office, the Bridgend office, the Pontypridd office, the Porthmadog office and others. Yet more are proposed for downgrading.

Understandably, the Public and Commercial Services union, which represents the employees affected, is focusing on the impact that that will have on the lives of their members and their families, and the economic consequences for the communities where offices are planned for closure and where jobs will be removed. However, it also makes a powerful case about the likely impact on the work of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and draws attention to how extremely centralising the proposed new structures would be, if and when introduced.

One of the specific functions of HMRC is called debt management and banking—the old collector of taxes role—which involves collecting duties from customers who have not paid their taxes on time and which is to be centralised in Cardiff. That is an alarming prospect when one learns that there is already a backlog of 1 million unworked and unanswered pieces of correspondence in large processing offices, such as Cardiff, around the country. In fact, processing—things such as the capture of self-assessment tax returns and ensuring that pay-as-you-earn customers have the correct amount of tax deducted from pay—will be centralised in Cardiff and Wrexham by 2010. The fear is that that is bound to be bad news for customers throughout Wales.

At least Cardiff and Wrexham are in Wales, however. VAT registration jobs that are now based in west Wales are going to Grimsby and Wolverhampton. Capital gains tax inquiries, which were once dealt with by teams across Wales, are also now to be dealt with by one team in Cardiff. That approach is reflected in plans for many of the HMRC’s functions in Wales. We face the loss of operational intelligence, detection and business services under the departmental plans. The shift is away from the local, towards the centre, and it seems to go against much of recent Government rhetoric.

The union tells me that there is no senior civil servant with direct managerial control in HMRC in Wales. There is no regional or national forum in HMRC in Wales in which management and trade unions can meet to negotiate and find solutions to problems specific to Wales. There is to be new investment in something called local compliance, where staff will have the job of detecting customers who have not paid the correct tax or have not declared themselves to the authorities, but those jobs are going outside Wales.

Indeed, in HMRC, “local” compliance is a misleading description. The local compliance zone for Wales is Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with the top civil servants based in Scotland. The PCS union estimates that the distances involved in covering this structure result in some 100 plane journeys a month by senior civil servants in local compliance alone. The negative environmental impact and the colossal carbon footprint do not just result from air travel. With the new structures, many middle managers now have staff
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under them from all over Wales and beyond. They are clocking up tens of thousands of road miles trying to keep in regular touch with their juniors.

It is right, however, to say that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs does not exist just to provide jobs for civil servants. Its function is to provide a high-quality service to its customers. Is it fulfilling that function with its new approach and structure? Apparently it is not, if a million pieces of correspondence are lying unanswered, and the constituents who contact me to complain about the weeks that they have to wait for responses to important queries are anything go by. Problem solving will certainly not be helped by removing the link between the customer and her or his local office.

Looking at the proposals, I have a sense of déj vu. A few years back, before the merger, Customs and Excise decided to remove customs officers from the Welsh ports and to work in future on a basis of risk assessment from centralised England locations. That was a mistake then, and this is a mistake now. Surely it would be far better to think again and set the objective of improving the working of the department on the basis of local services and local management, delivering for local people. That is the direction that we should be heading in and that is the direction that I keep hearing Ministers say they want to head in. Let us make a start with Revenue and Customs and let us get back to properly respecting and valuing our public servants, whether at local, Welsh Assembly or UK Government level.

4.39 pm

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton). May I say how much I agreed with almost everything that he said, and how much I profoundly disagreed with so much of what the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) said? Were a stranger to listen to the debate—I am sure that there are people who know little about Welsh politics—he or she would find the Secretary of State’s earlier claim that my party elected to go into coalition with the Tories frankly incredible, as the two preceding speeches clearly demonstrate.

We had a debate yesterday outside this place about the purpose of the Welsh day debate. What is it for? Looking at the attendance here today and the number of Members wanting to speak, we see that it is clearly an important forum. I cannot remember in my short time in this place a time limit on speeches in such a debate, which is significant. The debate gives hon. Members from Wales the opportunity to talk about detailed issues in their constituencies, and that is certainly one of the things that I intend to do in my few minutes.

Given that it is St. David’s day, I can tell the House that Dewi Sant said:

or

He also said, “Cadw’r ffydd” or “Keep the faith.” I intend to do both in my speech, or at least I will try.


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