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We must recognise that although these issues are important and it is right that we should be spending 12 days in Committee of the whole House discussing the European Union (Amendment) Bill, there are a lot
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of other issues that people outside the House would like to see us debating, such as public services, the economy and other things that they know affect their lives directly.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May we have an urgent debate on collective responsibility in government? It cannot be right that the Home Secretary, the Justice Secretary and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—I do not wish to embarrass the Welsh Secretary, who is sitting on the Front Bench—while campaigning in their own constituencies against the closure of post offices, are fully signed up to closing post offices in constituencies such as mine. If Ministers feel so angry about their own policy, they should resign.

Ms Harman: As I understand it, there is no constituency where it is proposed that every single post office should be closed. The notion suggested by the hon. Gentleman that some Members will find all their post offices closed, while others will find that all theirs have been kept open, is not correct. If there is a consultation about which post offices will close and which will stay open, it cannot be right to say that Members of Parliament who are also Ministers cannot represent the views of their constituents on how post offices in their constituencies are configured. Hon. Members can well understand that it is perfectly possible to agree to a situation where, of some 14,000 post offices, about 2,000 will be closed, and that there must be a consultation about which should be closed. To ban Members of Parliament from being involved in that consultation because they are Ministers would be completely wrong.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): Taking the Leader of the House back to her announcements about the European Union (Amendment) Bill and its progress through the House, I mention in passing that, as she will remember, the House did indeed vote on whether we would have an in/out referendum during the Queen’s Speech debate, and the motion was, of course, resoundingly defeated. On the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about debating defence matters, the Leader of the House will remember that the relevant parts of the Bill were not even reached in debate. I think that there is assent throughout the House that that subject is so important that if she could find some extra time specifically to debate defence, it would be very welcome.

Ms Harman: The way in which we are dealing with Committee consideration was the subject of a procedure motion, which was itself the subject of debate. There is also the question of how Members deal with it; those who spend a lot of time making lengthy speeches early in debates will crowd out others later on. We do not want to be too prescriptive. We were not too prescriptive in the programme motion and we have shown ourselves, as we promised, to be flexible about the balance between four and a half hours and one and a half hours, sometimes making it three hours and three hours.

We have tried to be flexible. We have given a great deal of time. We are eight days in; we have had eight full days of parliamentary debate on the Bill, and that is just in Committee. It is a very long debate. Second
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Reading was one day, the business motion was one day and Committee stage and Third Reading have 12 days. I think that we have had a great deal of debate. The suggestion that we are somehow trying to stifle debate makes me wonder whether colleagues have been in the Chamber and listening to the business statement. The debate has been extensive—some would say exhaustive. I am not saying that the Lisbon treaty is not important. Of course it is important, but I think that the House has had ample time to debate it.

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House what has happened to topical debates? We do not seem to have so many of them, and when we do, the subject matter bears a remarkable similarity to that of whatever speech the Prime Minister may have made earlier in the week. I suggest, in addition to my oft-repeated request for a debate on post office closures, that we have a debate on the human rights record of Fidel Castro.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will know that I have made an announcement that, after the introduction of topical debates in Government time, following the proposals of the Modernisation Committee, I undertook to review how the topical debates were operating. We have not had any for a number of weeks, for one reason or another: for example, pressure on Government business time by Northern Rock and the fact that I took a view on the need to discuss Members’ pay at length. Due to a number of issues, we have felt that Thursday business needed to be devoted to something other than topical debates. I point out, in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s point that the topical debate subject always seems to be the Prime Minister’s latest speech, that the last topical debate was on a subject proposed by the shadow Leader of the House.

Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): May we have a debate in Government time on the third runway at Heathrow? Considerable doubts are being expressed about the environmental assessment that has taken place and the role of BAA. Heathrow plays a crucial role in the life of the national economy, so it is extremely important that the issue should be debated fully and frankly.

Ms Harman: I agree that that is a very important issue. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government have undertaken a consultation exercise, which has just closed. There were many thousands of responses, which are being considered by the Government, and the decision will be reported in due course.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If the Government are serious about combating climate change, may we have a joint statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on climate change and retail premises that leave their doors open all day, blasting hot air into the atmosphere? My constituent, Mr. Mike Southwell of Weston by Welland, wrote to me this week to say that on a visit to his local high street he

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one of the shops

What will the Government do to resolve that dilemma?

Ms Harman: I will ask my right hon. and hon. Friends the Ministers in DEFRA and DBERR to address the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. The practice sounds wasteful, and it is obviously costly and not good for the environment. We want our retail businesses to thrive, but we also need to save the planet.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD) rose—

Mr. Speaker: I do not mean to embarrass the hon. Gentleman, but he did not come into the Chamber for the business statement. Hon. Members must hear the statement to ask a supplementary question.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Yesterday, we heard of the new drugs strategy, but we have not had a debate on the old drug strategy that was introduced with the full support of every party—

Mr. Speaker: I must stop the hon. Gentlemen. There are yellow cards and red cards being shown today. He left the Chamber and then came back in.

Paul Flynn: I heard the statement.

Mr. Speaker: Yes, but the hon. Gentleman left and came back in, and that is not on. It cannot be done. He should try again next week; he is sure to catch my eye then.

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Welsh Affairs

Motion made, and Question proposed,

12.22 pm

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): Before I begin my contribution, I should like to pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), for the work that he did, not only as Secretary of State for Wales, but as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Many people’s lives in our country have improved because of his work.

This debate is sometimes called the St. David’s day debate, but as you will know, Mr. Speaker, St. David’s day is on Saturday. It is in fact the feast day of St. Llibio, a sixth-century hermit from the island of Anglesey. Nevertheless, we can say that we are almost on the eve of St. David’s day. Just a few moments ago, a large number of Members of both Houses were privileged to attend the St. David’s day service at St. Mary’s Undercroft. I pay tribute to all those who organised the service, and particular tribute to the two schools who sang at the service—the London Welsh school and the Welsh school from Abercarn. It was an excellent start to our deliberations on Welsh matters.

Some people say that we should not have a Welsh day debate, and that since devolution arrived, there is no need for it, but I do not agree. It gives us an opportunity to debate and deliberate, and to celebrate our country. We have had a Welsh day debate since 1944, when the then Member for Ebbw Vale, Aneurin Bevan, addressed the House. It was in 2002 when I last spoke as Secretary of State in a similar debate, almost six years ago to the day. I reread my speech—I do not do that often, to be perfectly honest—and what struck me was that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), made his maiden speech on that day, and I welcomed him to the House. Who would have thought that, six years later, he would wind up the St. David’s day debate in the Chamber?

I also reflected on what has happened in Wales in the six years between my leaving office and returning to it. Of course, we could talk, as we do in Welsh questions and on other occasions, about improvements to our public services—to the health service and education—and about the environment and local government. Those are largely now issues for the National Assembly for Wales. However, as the House of Commons determines the Assembly’s finances, as Parliament must do, we, too, play our part in ensuring that our hospitals, schools and public services generally in Wales improve.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May I congratulate the Secretary of State for Wales on his return to the Dispatch Box? He mentioned the financing of education in Wales. Obviously, it is a devolved matter, but does he share my concern that the chief inspector of schools in Wales recently said that 16 schools—double last year’s number—will now have to be put into special measures, or be given significant improvement notices?

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Mr. Murphy: Of course I share the concern that if schools are not performing, they should improve. There is always room for improvement, but as I said yesterday in the House in reply to the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), if one looks at the overall picture for education, and particularly for schools in Wales, standards in our schools have risen, certainly in my constituency. School buildings have improved and class sizes have reduced. Every Member who represents a Welsh constituency will have a good tale to tell. That does not in any way mean that we can be complacent. We have to look seriously at the inspector’s report. That, of course, is ultimately a matter for Jane Hutt, the Minister for Education, Culture and Young People in Wales. I am sure that she will take any remedial action that is necessary. However, it is a devolved issue.

Our role, as a Parliament and a Government, is obviously to ensure that there are sufficient resources for our public services in Wales. There is no question but that in the past decade, an enormous amount of public money has gone into our services in Wales. That was possible because of a strong economy, which has been handled well, and because of low mortgage and interest rates. The effect of that, as every constituency Member of Parliament can say, is that there are many more people in work than there were a decade ago. Unemployment rates have fallen dramatically in every single constituency, and there are 130,000 more people in work than there were just over a decade ago. That is a good story for our people. It is against that background that we have had the money to give the Welsh Assembly to improve our services.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for the approach that he is taking to the debate. Does he share my concern that a recent answer to a written question revealed that more than 400,000 people are still economically inactive or unemployed in Wales? What does he have to say about how we can help the people and families concerned back into work?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) raised the same issue yesterday, and I mentioned then that the various initiatives that have been taken, such as the pathfinder initiative, help. However, I do not for one second underestimate the issue that we have to address. The Department for Work and Pensions has a role to play, and the National Assembly takes the issue very seriously. I do not underestimate the problem, but neither would I exaggerate it. The situation has to be considered in light of the enormous rise in the number of people working in Wales in the past 10 years.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I welcome the Secretary of State back to the Front Bench, and I join him in paying tribute to his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), for his work in the Wales Office. I took my seat in the House on St. David’s day, nearly 25 years ago, and I still support home teams in sport. Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is important that we raise spirits in Wales not only through better housing, schooling, transport and health services, but by supporting sport in Wales? Given that we have had such a fantastic start—I mean this seriously—to the rugby season, which has lifted spirits so well, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm
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that he and his colleagues will do all they can in the next few years to make sure that Welsh women and men can play as prominent a part as possible in the Olympic games in four years and in all other UK and international sport?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is right. With the Olympics coming to our country, there is an opportunity for Welsh men and women to train and take part in those games and the various spin-offs. Because the Olympics are in London, that can help Welsh sports people. May I also tell the hon. Gentleman that I was at the match on Saturday when Wales defeated Italy by a rather large margin? One hopes that in the two remaining matches in Dublin and in Cardiff, against Ireland and against France, we will indeed get the grand slam.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): On the point about the Olympics, my right hon. Friend will know that there is considerable concern in Wales about the cuts faced by organisations such as the Eisteddfod and various arts groups because of money being spent on the Olympics in London. Can he tell us what he thinks the benefit of the Olympics will be for Wales if cuts are taking place in funding for organisations that have come to depend on it?

Mr. Murphy: I understand what my right hon. Friend says and I know that the same points have been made in the National Assembly, but we have to accept that with the United Kingdom being the home of the Olympics when they come, there will be benefits for the whole of our country, including our country of Wales. How precisely that happens is a matter for those organising the games and for the Government Departments which are deeply involved in that. I very much take the point that my right hon. Friend makes and I hope that as part of the United Kingdom, we will share in the benefits of the Olympics.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): I share the concern expressed by the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). When it was announced that the Olympics were coming, I welcomed the announcement, but I asked the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport whether she would consider holding the canoeing championships in the world-class facility in Bala and the yachting in Pwllheli, which had been very successful for the Commonwealth games. She laughed and said, “We’ll see what we can do.” Nothing has come to Wales.

Mr. Murphy: I will take up the hon. Gentleman’s point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I am not the world’s greatest expert on sport, but I understand the general point that the hon. Gentleman is making—that if there are events that can be held in Wales with the Olympics, that must be a good thing for the Welsh people.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): I was born and brought up in Cardiff, as were my parents. My mother will tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the swimming pool that was in Cardiff city centre was part of the last London Olympics a long, long time ago— [Interruption.] I am sorry, the Empire games. There were spin-offs then which are not being seen in Wales, and that is a great misfortune.

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Mr. Murphy: I can remember the Empire swimming pool—it was an awfully long time ago. I agree that we need to consider these aspects. Of course, there are benefits for businesses, too, because of the arrival of the Olympics. I do not know of any country in the world that would not want to hold the Olympics, with the effect that can come to business and industry.

Mark Pritchard: The Secretary of State is being very generous. Does he accept that there is a link between sport in schools and those children developing into potential Olympic athletes, and does he share my concern that some schools in Wales have had to sell off the playing fields and the children cannot play the same sort of sports on concrete? Will he undertake to speak to the Minister for Education, Culture and Young People to try and stop the sell-off of school playing fields? As somebody who, growing up in Wales, played a poor scrum half for his school but grew up under perhaps the best rugby team ever in British history in the days of Gareth Edwards et al, may I say—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. With great respect, that is going a little far for an intervention.

Mr. Murphy: The debate is becoming a topical debate on rugby. I was not very good at it, either. I was so bad that after two games I was put on the line for ever, and that was in a good rugby school.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): On the topic of the Olympics, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) makes a good point about facilities available in Wales. If we do not get the main events in Wales other than soccer, there is the opportunity for teams to acclimatise and train beforehand in Wales. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that he works with his colleagues in Government and with the Minister for Education, Culture and Young People in the National Assembly for Wales to make sure that such projects develop from the assets already available, so that we have an Olympic legacy in Wales?

Mr. Murphy: Yes, of course. My hon. Friend the Minister is to meet my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics to discuss these matters—specifically, how Wales can help in training people, as well as hosting events. I take the points that were made about north Wales as well.

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I learned to swim in the Empire pool in Cardiff. More importantly, I worked for 10 years in the world of sport and I know how important it can be in crystallising the hopes and aspirations of youngsters. One of the things that I am concerned about is the way we market Wales, particularly as we are getting the Ryder cup in Wales and the Ashes match at the Sophia Gardens ground. We have a fabulous stadium and we have a world-beating rugby team. How will we market Wales as a wonderful venue for sport? Having listened to some of the presentations, I feel that we are not tying up all those events and marketing Wales worldwide in the way that we should do. Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to look at that with me and see how we can promote Wales throughout the world as a great sporting venue?

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