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26 Feb 2009 : Column 454

I am sorry to say that the problem with the banks is not new; it has been going on in my constituency for a considerable time. I raised the issue in 2006 in the House, soon after I first entered it. The problem is that average wages in my constituency are around the £17,000 mark, but house prices there average £100,000. Banks were giving 100 per cent. mortgages, the debt bubble just grew and grew and nothing was done to reduce it until the global crisis.

Credit card interest is a huge problem. The interest rates are absolutely enormous and cost our constituents huge amounts of money on the basis of what they borrow. Taking the point made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), we need to do all that we can to put money into people’s pockets, as well as looking at loans to businesses. I support loans to businesses, but without people buying, those businesses will still suffer—they will just borrow more and more.

We have heard a lot about the global economy. This country of ours—Wales, I mean—has exported for hundreds of years. It has led the way in exporting. Going back to the civil war in America, we exported cannon balls. We have exported everything, from coal to steel to—as now—modern technology. The problem is that those at the top over the past 10 years have got richer and richer while those at the bottom have suffered because of it. There will always be enough in this world for everybody’s needs, but there will never be enough for someone’s greed, and the greed of those individuals has destroyed the financial services. The financial control of these companies belongs to the many, not the few. We need to bring bank controls back to local economies and local areas—through credit unions, for example.

On regeneration, one of the projects that is vital not only to my constituency but to that of the Secretary of State and to constituencies along the Heads of the Valleys road is the dualling of that road. It is a massive project that will take a long time, but delaying it is causing huge problems to businesses in our areas. It is also a huge opportunity for construction and people’s jobs. I urge the Secretary of State to do all that he can to bring that project forward.

We have heard about rail services. The launch of the rail link in my constituency last February—a year ago now—has been so successful that the passenger numbers projected for the fourth year are travelling on it already. That is a fantastic demonstration of what rail can do for us. I urge the Secretary of State and the Government to look at where we can extend rail services. That is a massive opportunity. We had services across all our valley communities, and we need them back.

The shadow Secretary of State touched on tourism, but she did not mention history. The history of the south Wales valley built the world. The industrial revolution spread from Cardiff to Merthyr to Torfaen to Blaenau Gwent. There is a massive opportunity to tell our story, especially to the Americans. We virtually built America—let us bring them back to spend their money in our constituencies! To do that, however, we need integrated transport. Bus services and rail services need to work together. They are not doing that at the moment: they are increasing in one area and reducing in another. We have seen regional buses taken off and bus services cut. That is not good news for us.

The Welfare Reform Bill is going through Parliament. Last week, I mentioned that in my constituency we have 3,000 people looking for work and 6,000 people on
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incapacity benefit—a total of 9,000 people and an average of 200 to 250 jobs. That does not fit. However, the training opportunities are huge, and that is a real goal. Within that, we must get joined-up services. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) mentioned jobseekers and jobcentres. Jobcentres need to work with other organisations as well. When individuals enter them, they are dealt with just in that one place. There is lots of help out there, but we need joined-up thinking, not working in isolation.

Funding for further education has been raised on several occasions. I urge the Secretary of State—I know that this is a subject very close to his heart—to speak to the people at the sharp end. When we as politicians speak to the people who run these facilities and educational establishments, they tend to tell us what we want to hear. Staff and students in the three establishments that cover my constituency, tell me that they are in trouble. They will not be able to provide the services that they do already, and certainly not the services that we need for training opportunities.

I want to touch on two other subjects. The first is the steel industry, which is close to the hearts of many hon. Members. There are continuing problems in that industry. The main plant shut down in my constituency in 2002. Across the country at that time, we lost 10,000 jobs, and we are now seeing another 2,500 go. We must do everything we can to give the steel industry a level playing field. I have urged the Leader of the House to initiate a debate on the future of the steel industry, and I hope that that will happen in the near future. One of the areas for which we can use the industry is training. It has one of the best training records anywhere and I urge the Government to look at that when we look at the apprenticeships Bill. The opportunity in Wales to use the industry to train is massive.

Lastly, I have another big concern. I know that many Members have been in contact with the police authorities and the police themselves about threatened and perceived cuts to police funding. We hear from this House that money is being spent and that more police are on the streets, but in my constituency we have seen some police stations shut down and some have cut their hours, and there are fewer police on the streets. We need to get the record straight, whichever side is right or wrong. We need to come together and sort it out. In a time of downturn, we will see more people on the streets. We may well see more crime because of it, with people forced into situations such as house repossessions. It is not going to be easy, but we need to work together to ensure that our communities are safe and ready when the global downturn turns around, so that we are there to respond to it.

5 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): The problems of the credit crunch in my constituency mainly affect the manufacturing sector. At one point, 50 per cent. of Newport’s work force were involved in manufacturing, and about half of that figure are involved now. We have had serious problems, such as redundancies and short-time working in Novelis, Quinns radiators in Llanwern and Panasonic. These are terrible blows to the many thousands of workers concerned and their families. The only good thing to have come out of this recession is that there have not been any closures. No one has closed down a plant, or a section of plant, and then demolished the
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plant itself. Sadly, that happened in Llanwern in the last recession, where they started to knock down the coke ovens in the very week that the price of coke rocketed throughout the world, and we ended up importing coke from China.

There is optimism that the manufacturing industry will be ready to take off when we come out of the other side of recession. There are some good news stories. A month ago, a plant opened on the docks in Newport, at Sims, which is the biggest of its type in the world, and it is next to two other plants that are the biggest of their type in the world. The Sims plant deals with redundant electronic equipment under the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive, and it is a remarkable piece of machinery. Old computers, vacuum cleaners, calculators and so on are wheeled in one side, and at the other end they come out as four different types of plastic, metals and precious metals such as silver. It is a wonderful piece of equipment that is unique to the world, and the biggest in the world. Next to it, on the same docks, is the biggest piece of end-of-life car recycling equipment in the world, and next to that is the biggest refrigeration recycling plant in the world, which is also the most efficient at extracting gas. There are therefore some good news stories to tell.

Much that is good is happening in Wales this year. It is the 10th anniversary of having our own Government on the soil of our country for the first time in centuries, and we should acknowledge what a success that has been, particularly the One Wales agreement, through which two parties are working together to give us stable government in Wales that can plan for the future. I am looking forward to that anniversary being suitably marked. Unfortunately, it is up against— [ Laughter. ] I hear laughter from one of the obstacles that I was going to mention. The two main obstacles to the Assembly and drag anchors on it have been neurotically power-retentive Welsh Members of this House who weep when they see power flowing down the M4 to Cardiff, and the inertia of civil servants who do not like change and are not attuned to taking on purely Welsh initiatives, particularly those that come from the Labour party. It is significant that about half a dozen of the civil servants at the Welsh Assembly earn more money than the First Minister himself.

I have been asked to be brief, but I have great concerns about the Welsh language legislative competence order. I think that it will make little difference to the Welsh language. In 1961, Saunders Lewis made a great speech, entitled “Tynged yr Iaith”, that shook the Welsh-speaking nation—saying that the Welsh language would be dead by the year 2000. It should have died out centuries ago, given that it is spoken by fewer than 1 million people and is up against a great world language, but it has prospered magnificently. A list has been mentioned of prominent people from Wales who have won competitions on UK television for choirs, performers, singers or musicians. Many of them are the products of Welsh language education, because of its emphasis not just on the Welsh language but on music and acting skills. It is a great success story, and we have been successful in many other ways as well.

Mr. Touhig: Does my hon. Friend recognise that when we were councillors together, we made great strides in putting investment into Welsh medium education in Gwent, which has benefited greatly? That was done by Labour councillors.

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Paul Flynn: My right hon. Friend tempts me: I came into politics as the secretary of an organisation to set up Welsh language schools in Gwent in 1969, when my late daughter came home from school and announced that she had learned her first ever Welsh song. I asked, “How does it go?” She said, “It goes like this: ‘The land of my fathers is dear to me’.” “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” was being taught in English in Newport at that time. We have made huge strides, and I think that there are now six or seven schools that teach in the Welsh language. The Conservatives are right to take pride in the Education Reform Act 1988, which means that conversational Welsh can be spoken in English medium schools. Certainly the Labour party, Gwent county council and other Welsh councils have a lot to be proud of.

My final point about the LCO is that I am concerned about what we are creating. The Welsh Affairs Committee is doing a prodigious amount of work on it, on top of all the other work that it has been doing successfully for years, but it is not the right body to be, as it has been described, a “revising chamber” for the Welsh Assembly. If such a thing is desirable, as it may well be, we should have an organisation that reflects the democratic votes of the people of Wales, which the Committee does not. More than a quarter of its members are Conservatives, and one of them does not represent a single Welsh vote. There are 25 Welsh Labour Members who do not have a voice on it at all.

There are two organisations that represent all Welsh MPs. One is the Welsh Grand Committee, which I am afraid was set up as a sop for devolution many years ago and is mired in failure and futility. It is not thought of as a serious body at all. However, there is another body that should be re-exhumed: the Welsh parliamentary party. It was set up in 1888, and for the period between 1892 and 1906 held the balance of power in the Chamber. It could have taken over and acted in the same way as the Irish parliamentary party did at the time.

The Welsh parliamentary party has gone through long periods of hibernation and been revived each time. The most recent revival was by a Conservative Secretary of State when the Conservatives wanted the Welsh Grand Committee to go to Wales. The Welsh parliamentary party put a condition on that, saying that the use of the Welsh language should be allowed, and that a monolingual Chamber here should not import monolingualism into Wales. That was the last time that the party met. The current situation is similar to the one in the 1930s, when Members of all parties decided that the challenge was so serious that it needed the input of all Welsh MPs, regardless of party affiliation. I believe that we should revive the Welsh parliamentary party, because it would be the ideal vehicle to deal with LCOs in a far more acceptable way. We cannot just have the Welsh Affairs Committee taking on that extra burden and becoming a revising chamber by default. We should decide what is the ideal way of doing things, and the best way is to have a body to revise LCOs that is open to every Welsh MP.

5.9 pm

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I am the only English Member of Parliament to speak in the debate and I look forward to presenting a perspective on cross-border issues that affect my constituency of Shrewsbury as a result of devolution in Wales.

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It is appropriate to hold a debate on Wales—it gives Welsh Members of Parliament a tremendous opportunity to talk about the Principality. However, I greatly regret that the Government have not fulfilled their commitment and kept their promises that we would have debates in the Chamber on the English regions, and that there would be a Question Time about the English regions. My region—the west midlands—has more people than Wales and contributes more to the gross domestic product of the country as a whole than Wales, yet we have no Question Time and no opportunity to discuss the issues that affect us.

Mr. Touhig: In view of the hon. Gentleman’s comments, I hope that the Conservative party will submit names for the regional Select Committees that the Government are trying to set up.

Daniel Kawczynski: I believe that we have. It is important that the Government introduce English regional debates.

I believe that the seats in the United Kingdom—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The debate is about Welsh Affairs. However strongly the hon. Gentleman feels about issues that relate to other parts of the UK, I am sure that his remarks from now on will be about Welsh Affairs.

Daniel Kawczynski: Very much so, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was about to mention Montgomeryshire, which is the seat next to mine. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), who has already spoken and is an assiduous Member of Parliament, represents 57,000 constituents, whereas, just across the border, I represent 74,000 constituents. That is a staggering extra 17,000 constituents with whom I must deal in comparison with the Welsh Member of Parliament just across the border. That is important, because we all want to do everything possible to support our constituents, table Westminster Hall debates for them and ask questions on their behalf. When Members of Parliament have the same budget, but 17,000 more constituents, that is a problem which we must tackle.

Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman gets the figures right, but he must also recognise that the geographical area that he covers is much smaller than mine. Montgomeryshire covers 765 square miles. If the constituencies get too big, they become unmanageable for geographical reasons. He has his cross to bear and I have mine.

Daniel Kawczynski: The hon. Gentleman is luckier than most because he flies around in his little plane. He has taken me up in his plane across our two constituencies, so I am sure that he can get around Montgomeryshire in his plane more easily than I can get around Shrewsbury and Atcham in my motor car.

I want to consider proportional representation in Wales. I am joint chairman, with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Donohoe), of the all-party group on the promotion of first past the post. We recently went to the Scottish Parliament to take evidence from Members of the Scottish Parliament about the problems that they have encountered with proportional representation. I perceive proportional representation
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in the Welsh Assembly as a threat ultimately to our electoral system in England. I believe that there should be one electoral system for the whole United Kingdom. At the end of the day, we are one country, and there should not be PR in Wales. Being elected under first past the post to represent a constituency makes one accountable to the people in that constituency. All parliamentarians here have a tremendous bond with their constituents. They know that we are accountable to them, that we live in the constituencies that we represent and that we are directly elected by them. In my view, PR is a travesty, which increases the distance between politicians and those who elect them.

Mr. Roger Williams: Has the hon. Gentleman checked that point of view with the leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly, who was elected under the proportional system?

Daniel Kawczynski: As the hon. Gentleman knows, my main duty is to England and I speak on behalf of my constituents.

The Welsh Assembly creates huge difficulties for English border towns. As I said earlier, the Royal Shrewsbury hospital loses £2 million a year as a result of the different mechanism whereby the Welsh Assembly pays for treatment across the border. When I made that point to the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, he gave a derisory reply. We have patients coming from Wales to the Royal Shrewsbury hospital who get life-saving medication to which my constituents in Shrewsbury are not entitled. I have to fight tooth and nail to secure life-saving treatments for my constituents that people from Wales get automatically in our hospital. That causes huge frustration and anger and divides our two communities.

Another problem is bovine tuberculosis. We in England had to kill 40,000 cows last year as a result of bovine TB. I am grateful that the Welsh Assembly is looking into that terrible problem and that it is holding trial culls of badgers in Wales. It is just a shame that there is not more co-operation between our Parliament here in London and the Welsh Assembly over the issue, which transcends our borders. There should be far more assimilation and co-operation in dealing with such major issues.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire also mentioned flooding. He thanked the Minister for his intervention, which he said would prevent part of his constituency from being flooded. However, flooding causes tremendous misery on our side of the border. Shrewsbury floods repeatedly, as do all the other towns on the River Severn, through Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, causing hundreds of millions of pounds of damage in lost business. The way to resolve the problem is not to have little barriers in each town, but to have a wet washland scheme at the source of the River Severn, across the border in Wales, which would flood a large piece of agricultural land, which would become a marsh in the summer, encouraging wildlife, and a lake in winter. However, the hon. Gentleman said that thanks to the Minister’s intervention that proposal has been blocked. I shall be telling my constituents in Shrewsbury about that and trying to find out more about how the Minister intervened to prevent mere scrubland or agricultural land from being flooded in a rural part of
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mid-Wales. The Minister is happy to do that, despite all the suffering from flooding in Shrewsbury and all the other towns down the River Severn. That is simply unacceptable.

On a positive note, I should like to put in a plug for the Wrexham-to-Marylebone rail service, which goes through Shrewsbury. Welsh and English MPs are working together to secure that link, which is vital for business and tourism. However, Virgin Trains and Arriva are doing everything possible with the Office of Rail Regulation to try to scupper that service. I very much hope that the Minister will do everything possible to safeguard that important service, which operates from Wrexham to London.

I have great concerns about the grants that the Welsh Assembly gives to businesses, which are much greater than those that we can afford in England. Those grants are uncompetitive and unfair. They lead to many Shropshire firms going just across the border to set up business and thus causing—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Hon. Members are cheering, but those moves are leading to significant job losses in Shropshire.

Finally, a lot of Welsh children come across the border to go to schools in my constituency. Many rural primary schools are under threat from closure because we receive only £3,300 per annum for every child and we are ranked 147th out of the 149 local education authorities in England, which is leading to huge pressure on our schools. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind as well.

I am trying to say this respectfully, as the only English MP in a Welsh debate, but what I am trying to get across is this: I love Wales. We went on holiday to Wales last year, to Mwnt bay, which is absolutely beautiful. My family and I even spent an afternoon on the beach in Mwnt with my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) and his family. During my holiday I also met the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams) in Aberystwyth, in his constituency. We all love Wales and we all want to see it prosper.

I am just trying to convey some of the problems and frustrations I have as a Member of Parliament representing a border town that is losing out in certain ways as a result of increasing changes between the Welsh Assembly and our own Parliament. I very much hope that we can all work across the border because, at the end of the day, we are one country and we should be working together to improve the lives of our constituents in both countries.

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