Previous Section Index Home Page

The second issue is incapacity benefit. We would all agree that we want those who can work to be in work. However, the approach that is being taken to drive the numbers down is wrong. I recently met a constituent, aged 64 and a half—people come off incapacity benefit at 65—who has been on the benefit for 10 years. He is supported by his GP, but he has been told by a board that he is fit for work. How can I explain that to him when he says, “I have not improved in 10 years. My
28 Feb 2008 : Column 1315
health is not much better, the arthritis is worse and my back is still bad.”? We cannot tell such people that they are now fit, especially if their GP supports their claim.

I hope that we can take a slightly different approach. We do need to examine those on incapacity benefit, but we also need to examine how they get on the benefit in the first place. For years, in areas such as mine, people would come out of a traditional heavy industry and go on to incapacity benefit. That mentality has continued, so it is a case not just of getting people off the benefit, but of examining who is put on it and seeing how we can help them. Often, there are jobs that they could do.

Mr. Crabb: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the reasons why people go on to incapacity benefit. Does he share my concern about the role of some GPs in the process, who open the gate too easily for people to migrate from employment or other benefits on to long-term incapacity benefit?

Mr. Davies: There is great concern about such misunderstanding by general practitioners. They do not know the benefits system and sometimes think that incapacity benefit is an easy option. We need an education process for GPs, so that they can understand what they are doing when they sign people on for benefits.

The next issue follows on from a point made by the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig). There is huge concern about objective 1 funding. It has provided masses of money and opportunity for Wales, and there have been improvements, but we have missed the boat. In Blaenau Gwent, we still have areas with boarded-up shops. The small and medium enterprises do not exist there at the moment and need to be encouraged. Our biggest concern is that convergence funding has now replaced objective 1 funding, and it has a time limit on it. What happens next? Blaenau Gwent still does not have sufficient sustainability and too many projects rely on objective 1 and convergence funding. When those funds are removed, those projects will be under threat. Significant numbers of people are employed through objective 1 funding. What will happen to them if and when we lose convergence funding? The sector of the economy that relies on project work and the development trusts is fragile, and it will be under threat very soon.

I spoke in this debate last year on the issue of tourism and I mentioned a part of the Secretary of State’s constituency, Big Pit, which is a huge draw. In Blaenau Gwent we want to be part of that. As I said to someone last week, the area is full of relics and I would be happy to welcome people who came to see them. Our industrial heritage and history is second to none. Who built America? Who sent coal, steel and iron all over the world? It was the south Wales valleys. Nor should we forget Nye Bevan and the creation of the national health service. However, 12 months after that debate, we have not generated anywhere near the capacity for tourism of areas such as Blaenau Gwent.

Another issue affecting the community is energy. We heard earlier that Wales can lead the way—the Severn barrage is probably one of the biggest examples—but there is a problem with wind farms. Like open-cast mining, they give rise to nimbyism: “Not in my back
28 Feb 2008 : Column 1316
yard.” But when we look around us, especially on the mountain tops and at the tops of the valleys in our area, we see opportunities for positioning wind farms. However, I reiterate the point that has been made: it needs to be done with the people rather than against them. It is important that we bring the people along and that they support wind farms rather than trying to stop them.

The issue of the Olympics has been raised. If hill walking is an Olympic event by 2012, could Blaenau Gwent please be considered? We have plenty of facilities for that, although maybe not for much else.

In the past couple of months, many hon. Members, including the Secretary of State, have been approached by their police authorities, which have expressed concern about ongoing funding for police in our areas. My major concern is that we will lose the fluffy bits that people see as an add-on, such as the partnership and communities together meetings and the community part of policing. I hope that that is not the case. I have written to the Secretary of State about the police issues, and we have had assurances that those services will not be undercut. They are important.

Beyond supporting community support officers and their project within policing, one area in which we have a significant lack is help for young people. I recently visited a rehabilitation centre in Bristol for those addicted to alcohol and drugs. People as young as 18 and 19 were in that establishment, and one of the things that came out of my visit was that those people had had no contact with anyone for much of their young lives due to family breakdowns, for instance. Alongside police work and education, we need to invest in youth workers. There is a significant lack of people who can deal face to face and one to one with young people to understand their problems and anxieties. With the loss of the steel and coal industries, young people have experienced a loss of identity. To bring back that identity and a sense of belonging, we need to look after them; as my grandmother used to say, they need to be given a cwtsh. They need to be taken close and looked after, because their families are failing in some respects to look after those children. Although the funds are there for policing, we need a lot more face-to-face work to be done in the community.

Mark Pritchard: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government could do far more to support existing youth services, such as the Air Training Corps, the Army Cadet Force, the Sea Cadet Corps and indeed the Scouts and Girl Guides?

Mr. Davies: The important thing about that is how we promote those types of activity through schools. We do not see young children being told at primary school level what activities are available in the community. I agree wholeheartedly: to draw young people into such activities is wonderful. Having been part of the Scout movement, and having a young son in the Scouts now, I know that it is a fantastic organisation. The hon. Gentleman is right. Young people have so many opportunities that they perhaps do not recognise.

A recent change in law with which I have a problem is the alcohol confiscation law. It is easy to put a law in place, but how it can be policed I honestly do not know. There is a growing problem of young people on street corners with cans and bottles of alcohol. It is going to be a difficult one to police.

28 Feb 2008 : Column 1317

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I thank you for giving me the time to speak. We have heard a significant amount about post office closures this afternoon, and I support everything that right hon. and hon. Members have said. The Government have embarked recently on a nationalisation programme that I support 110 per cent. It is only one bank at the moment, but who knows? In terms of the post offices, one of my constituents, Peter Chambers, has come up with a possible solution. If we nationalise the lottery, run it through the Government and place the terminals in every post office in the country rather than in supermarkets, maybe that would help support the post offices by bringing businesses into them, in the way that we heard about earlier on. It would sustain their future in all our communities.

4.19 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): It is a pleasure for me to follow, for the first time, the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies). Our backgrounds have a great deal in common, and I should like to take up some of the themes that he raised. It is also a pleasure to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his return to office, for two reasons. The first has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes): now that my right hon. Friend is in office, he can indulge fully in what the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey decided was his passion for Welsh devolution, and his deep enthusiasm for the Welsh language. The second reason why I welcome my right hon. Friend back to office is that it means that his time will be fully occupied. It will be busy in the office, so he will have less energy and time for some of the activities to do with devolution in which he was involved, together with his comrade, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig). That will be extremely beneficial.

Sir Martin Evans has been mentioned. We are all very proud that the professor of mammalian genetics at Cardiff university has won a Nobel prize, together with others, and we are proud of the other winner of a prize in Cardiff. Sir Martin is a proud Welshman and he delights in his roots in the capital city. The best thing about the win is that his work, which involves embryos, is in an area in which there are boundless opportunities for development. There are possible future Nobel prize winners in a little-known firm in Newport called Lifeforce. It was founded by Professor Bradley Stringer and a man with an exotic Welsh name—although he is Welsh—Mr. Del DelaRonde.

The firm is in the business of parking immune systems. It is an exotic business; a sample of blood, in pristine condition, is taken from a healthy patient, and the white cells are extracted and kept in three different locations. When the immune system is attacked by disease, or is weakened by chemotherapy or radiotherapy, it is possible to expose the white cells to a natural growth factor that multiplies them into an army of healthy white cells, which are re-infused into the patient. That is an exciting possibility. Lifeforce in Newport owns world patents. It already has a link with the Fraunhofer Institute in Munich and a firm in America. It is one of only three companies that are in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The possibilities are immense, if one thinks of how the technology could be used. It could be used for
28 Feb 2008 : Column 1318
AIDS patients. If someone who has HIV gets full-blown AIDS, and has a re-infusion of their healthy immune system, they could go back to where they were, with HIV, and with full-blown AIDS in remission. That is causing a great deal of excitement in the scientific world. The company is wholly Welsh. Its founder, the professor, is a former patent examiner in Newport. One of the crucial factors is that the firm has a link that has been approved, and unique patents. Approval has come from the Food and Drug Administration in America, and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in the UK. There is the possibility of huge expansion in that field. We are talking about the medicine of the future, and I think that it will certainly rank with surgery, radiotherapy and various drugs as a cancer treatment in future.

That is one example of the great things that are happening in Wales. It is part of our pride in Newport, a city that is in a very healthy state. We are looking forward to the year of the general election, 2010, but there will be another major event in Newport in that year: the Ryder cup. There is so much activity going on in the town. Newport is being reborn; it will be Newport nouveau. There is a big new boulevard running through the town. The other day, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Jessica Morden) saw the plans for its new rugby stadium. The railway station is undergoing a major makeover. There are great things happening in our city and it is a chance to be very optimistic about it.

Yesterday a new 10-year drugs strategy was announced. It is unfortunate that we have not had a debate on it or even a statement. We had a statement in the House 10 years ago, when the previous drugs strategy was supported by all major parties. There was only one Back Bencher who objected. Before we embark on a second drugs strategy, we should look at the result of the past 10 years, acknowledging that the treatment target is the only target that has been met. We have not come anywhere near reaching the targets that were set for the reduction of drugs use, the reduction of drugs-related crime and the reduction in drugs-related deaths.

We should look at the experience of other countries. Portugal had a five-year drugs strategy in 2001, the result of which is that the number of drug deaths was halved in that country. In other countries, too, spectacular results have been achieved. Let me speak about my experience, as one constituency MP. Two people living in my constituency would be recorded in the statistics of the past 10 years, and both had similar experiences in the past 18 months. They went to jail because they were stealing to feed their addiction. They will be marked up as great successes because they went in as drug users and came out clean. That is the end of the happy story. The woman lived for a week after she came out of prison. The man lived for a day after he came out of prison. They both went back to taking heroin, at the normal dose that they had tolerated before, and they died.

When we look at the continuing scourge of drugs throughout Wales, we largely ignore the remedies that are available. There has been a slight decrease recently in the number of deaths, and there have been improvements, which I would argue have come from treatment—from the health outcomes. There is also optimism in Europe that we are moving away from the policy that we are all
28 Feb 2008 : Column 1319
signed up to as members of the United Nations—a 10-year strategy that was designed to eliminate or reduce substantially all drug cultivation and drug use. That policy was adopted in 1998 and comes up to be examined this year.

There has been no progress whatever anywhere on the planet in achieving that end, yet we are still in denial. When the tough policies fail, we go on to other policies that continue to fail. A Bill that is to come before the House proposes that we should go for more policies based on the criminal justice system. There is one lesson that stares us in the face when we look at the experience of the past 40 years, since we started to get tough on drugs in 1971, when there were fewer than 1,000 addicts in Britain. We have had tough policies, we have imprisoned many people, we have done everything to eliminate drugs use, but there are now 280,000 drug addicts and that number is rising.

Other countries have achieved great success in reducing drug addiction. One reason to be optimistic is our realisation that we can no longer rely on the criminal justice system. That is counter-productive and wasteful. There is not a prison in the country where all illegal drugs are not used. However, schemes for needle exchanges, injection rooms and substitution are cheaper and they work. They produce good results and reduce drug crime and the number of users.

A new convention will come before Ministers in a month or two, based on changing from the criminal justice system to health outcomes. There is another splendid document produced by the same group of people, called the Rome Consensus, which has been approved by the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 130 countries and there is a chance of that going through the United Nations. There is hope that we can change our view, but it will be by changing our attitudes.

When the barriers came down in the Soviet Union and the drugs flowed in, the authorities had no way of dealing with them, so they turned to us in the west. What they got was not a strategy that worked but a babble of voices giving them different advice, with the result that there are now 5 million addicts in the CIS. A hospital outside Moscow, which I do not recommend anyone visits, is filled with children all born with AIDS, all the children of sex workers and drug users. We have seen that scourge spread across the planet.

We can change our policy. In 2005, shortly before the election, the House decided to reclassify magic mushrooms in the same category as heroin. No main party opposed that because they did not want to be pilloried as being soft on drugs. Because of that lack of courage and failure to recognise the problem, we are acting as agents in continuing the scourge.

Mark Pritchard: The hon. Gentleman is right to identify a growing drugs problem in Wales, but I must disagree with him on abandoning the criminal justice system, which I agree needs to work hand in hand with health outcomes. Does he share my concern that we also need to deal with the sources of supply of these drugs, and that it is absolutely wrong that drug liaison officers have been withdrawn since the Serious Organised Crime Agency took over that role in foreign countries from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs?

28 Feb 2008 : Column 1320

Paul Flynn: Trying to deal with the source of supply is utterly futile. The Colombian authorities have been trying for 30 years, and we are seeing the Colombianisation of Afghanistan. The British taxpayer has spent £250 million in Afghanistan and the lives of many of our soldiers have been lost in trying to stop the drugs supply at source. The result is that the production of drugs in Afghanistan last year went up by 60 per cent. and the price of heroin on the streets of Britain is the lowest that it has ever been. It is a complete myth that the supply of drugs can be stopped at source.

This is an international problem, but we have our problems in Wales as well. However, I am optimistic about our situation. When I walked as a 17-year-old from Grangetown across the docks in Cardiff to Guest, Keen and Nettleford’s nail factory, where I worked at that time, the landscape was bleak, with cranes and railway lines, and now the place is transformed. We have a wonderful site—the new bayscape with the Senedd, a jewel of a building.

A group of people from New York came to see me recently and their teacher told me to ask them their favourite television programme, and it was “Torchwood”, which has images of Cardiff bay. That is part of what has been going on for the first time for centuries. We have heard some bleak and jaundiced views about devolution, but for the first time for centuries young people, creative, talented and entrepreneurial people, from Wales do not have to come to London to earn their fortune. In fact, the flow is coming the other way, just as the flow of power is coming the other way. That is inevitable, and it will continue. If they say English votes for English Members, so it will happen. The process of devolution will continue, and it cannot be resisted. People may stand in the stream and say no, but the flow will go on from now.

We will see the results of that in the nation’s growing self-confidence and the growing popularity of devolution. John Shortridge recently gave some figures showing that it was accepted in Wales by a hair’s breadth, but now the opposition has declined. There are people who have been anti-devolution, who I can recall in 1979 being against the campaign and who will never have anything good to say about devolution, but we can look with optimism at what is happening in our country.

There are two places that I would like to be tomorrow to see what Dewi Sant would have recognised when he said, “Bydd llawen, cadw’r ffydd”—be happy, keep the faith—although he might have been surprised just how many faiths there are in Wales now. The first of those two places, where Welsh life will be in its purest and best form, is the village school in Arfon in Gwynedd. The young children there speak Welsh with great fluency and understanding; language has come down the centuries continuously. It is a miracle that the ancient Welsh language still survives and is still there in such schools. The second place is another school, in Pillgwenlly, Newport. The children there are of every possible hue and from every part of the world. They will be saying their prayers and conducting their St. David’s day ceremonies. During prayers, half the class will join their hands together in the Christian way, and the other half according to the Muslim tradition, but they will be saying the same prayers and singing the same songs in both beautiful languages of Wales.

Next Section Index Home Page