Previous Section Index Home Page

The impact on the auction industry would also be substantial. I have spoken, for example, to the directors of Ruthin Farmers Auction Company, which regularly sells some 5,000 head of sheep in a session. They say that it will be quite impossible to read the ID tags of
26 Feb 2009 : Column 467
each individual sheep as it goes through. I therefore echo the hon. Gentleman’s words and urge the Minister to do whatever he can to persuade DEFRA to obtain a derogation from this wrong-headed European legislation.

We had a very short and focused contribution from the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), who probably even now is sharing a railway carriage with my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan)—I think that they are going to the same destination this evening. He spoke about a very important subject: Welsh broadcasting and English language broadcasting in Wales. There is no doubt that that sector is under severe threat. I commend to the Government what he had to say about the difficulties that the Welsh broadcasting industry is facing and suggest that they take his remarks on board.

My hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) spoke about the deteriorating economic picture in his constituency. He spoke about the need for additional investment in further education and expressed his concern about the budgetary cuts imposed on the sector by the Assembly Government. He also made a important point about the importance of language skills. In Wales, we tend to obsess about the Welsh language, and it is important, but so are international languages. In an increasingly globalised world, foreign language skills are absolutely necessary and my hon. Friend was entirely right to make that point.

We then heard from the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith), who spoke up, as he has on so many occasions, for the St. Athan project, which is supported in all parts of the House. I reiterate the point that I made when I intervened on him: one of the most important aspects of St. Athan is that it provides highly skilled military jobs for young people and, specifically, that it offers those opportunities to young people from Wales. Wales has a fine military tradition—everybody in the House knows that—and St. Athan will be a huge asset to young people who wish to serve their country.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke about the M4 link road, and other Members, including the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan), spoke about the importance of transport. Transport is vital, as is the improvement of transport links. One concern—I have expressed it previously, as have other Members—is the potential impact of the local transport legislation that gives the Welsh Assembly the power to impose trunk road charges in Wales. I strongly suggest that at a time such as this the last thing that Welsh road users need is an additional tax on driving along roads in their own country. Although the Assembly has those powers, I strongly counsel it not to use them.

We had an interesting contribution from the hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price), who analysed the banking crisis and spoke about the prospect of a more local form of banking that is more publicly accountable. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a student of history, so I am sure that he will recall the efforts of Richard Williams of Llandudno at the end of the 1960s, who formed a company called Prif Trysorfa Cymru, or the Chief Welsh Treasury. That attracted some concern from the Board of Trade, so he renamed it the Welsh Black Sheep bank and issued £1 and 10 shilling notes. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman would want to resurrect that bank, but it is an interesting prospect.

26 Feb 2009 : Column 468

Talking of black sheep, we then had a contribution from the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig). I do not intend any personal criticism of him; I am merely echoing the words of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn). The right hon. Gentleman made his usual robust points in his usual robust style. He expressed concerns that many Opposition Members have about the potential for the balkanisation of Britain if devolution is not handled sensitively. He made the important point that the Welsh language LCO must be carefully scrutinised. My party yields to no one in our support for the Welsh language, but we do not want to see it become a tool for division. Therefore it is vital that that LCO is scrutinised with great thoroughness.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) spoke of the downturn in the economy and the effect on his constituency, which is primarily rural. He also expressed his concerns about electronic identification of sheep and the closure of businesses in his constituency, which he says has been in recession for some three years. He also spoke in favour of green technology, but against wind turbines.

We then heard from the hon. Member for Cardiff, North, who also touched on economic issues and spoke about the need to improve transport links. She also spoke approvingly about St. Athan, and of the interesting ProAct programme, which I would like to hear more about, as it appears to be very innovative. At the moment, its achievements are small, but from tiny acorns do mighty oak trees grow. The hon. Lady said that the Severn tidal barrage project could have huge environmental benefits, but could also have huge environmental disbenefits. Careful scrutiny of the project will be needed to balance those competing concerns.

We had a powerful contribution from the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies), who spoke of the need for a review of the Barnett formula and expressed his concern about the potential for a £500 million budget cut for the Welsh Assembly. He spoke also of irresponsible banking practices and touched on the failure of regulation, which was also mentioned yesterday by the chairman of the Financial Services Authority in his evidence to the Treasury Committee. There certainly has been a failure of regulation, and I hope that the Government will address that.

We had an upbeat contribution from the hon. Member for Newport, West. He said that his constituency is suffering from the downturn but that there have been no closures yet, and there are some bright spots. He talked about new recycling plants in his constituency, which are an extension of the green technology that may power the upturn when it comes.

We had a contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), in which he reminded us—usefully—that Wales is actually attached to England. He said that events on one side of the border have repercussions on the other, and he was right to highlight the effects that the policies of the Welsh Assembly are having on hospitals in his constituency. The Welsh Affairs Committee has touched on such matters, and it is clear that we have not got the settlement right. That is something that we have to address.

We then heard from the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), who spoke about his support for Wylfa and for Anglesey Aluminium. Both are important
26 Feb 2009 : Column 469
employers in his constituency and both are in danger from the downturn. Finally, we heard from the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), who expressed her concerns about the difficulty of drawing down funds for public building projects.

The debate was dominated by economic concerns, and there is clearly an extraordinary amount of anxiety in the House about the downturn’s effect on individual constituencies and on Wales as a whole. I believe that Wales has the potential to pull through those difficulties, but doing so will not be easy. I am sure that every Member of the House will work assiduously in the 12 months between now and the next time that we convene for this debate to ensure that the impact on our country is minimised.

5.51 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wayne David): It gives me great pleasure to respond to this St. David’s day debate. As far as I am aware, he was not an ancestor mine, but he could be an antecedent of many of the hon. Members who have participated today. He lived a frugal life, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) reminded us that his only drink was water. He believed in brevity: he was a man of few words, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), who gave a commendably brief speech this afternoon. He also focused on the little things in life, about which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reminded us in the note on this debate that he sent to all Welsh Members.

I was pleased that nearly all those who contributed to the debate focused on the people whom they represent in their constituencies rather than on somewhat remote theories and activities. Most people in Wales are worried about the economy, and that was brought home to us in the passionate contributions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) and various other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith).

These are undoubtedly difficult times, but I want to stress that the Government are being very proactive. That is the important thing: we are doing everything that is humanly possible to demonstrate that we are on the side of ordinary people. For example, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have been travelling around Wales over the past few weeks, meeting the owners of small businesses in particular, and hearing at first hand about the difficulties that they face. We have listened to their views and ensured that they are articulated here in London, the centre of UK Government.

The Wales Office has published the document “Real help now”, and it has proved to be very useful. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams) said that it has been extremely well received, but it is important to stress that that is not the end of the matter. The document will be constantly updated and made even more accessible to people throughout the length and breadth of Wales.

The document clearly demonstrates how central Government here in London and the Welsh Assembly are working in partnership for the benefit of the people of Wales. I shall not go through all the schemes enumerated
26 Feb 2009 : Column 470
in it, but several hon. Members mentioned the ProAct programme, which is already delivering material benefits for people in Wales.

Times are difficult, but it is important to stress that positive developments are also occurring in Wales, and we heard some references to them this afternoon. For instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith) referred to the defence technical academy, and mention was also made of the gas-fired power station in Pembrokeshire.

My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli said that she had heard rumours that large numbers of people from abroad might apply for jobs on infrastructure projects in her constituency. I assure her that we will do our utmost to make sure that the majority of those employed come from the local labour market, as it is very important that local people benefit from those investments.

Similarly, the go-ahead has been given for a new prison at Caernarfon, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) noted.

A number of Members, including the hon. Members for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) and for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies) referred to the positive developments with tourism in Wales. It is undoubtedly a very important area that we should exploit to the utmost given the value of the currency.

Concern was expressed about a new nuclear power station to succeed Wylfa. The Wales Office is 100 per cent. behind a new nuclear power station in Ynys Môn—let there be no question about that. Members asked whether Wylfa will continue beyond March 2010. There is a possibility of that, but we will have to see exactly what the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has to say.

Another clear theme is the need not only to deal with the situation in which we find ourselves but to prepare and plan strategically for the future. The upturn will come, and I am confident that it will be a dynamic upturn. We have to invest in education and training, as the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) said. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) and the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent mentioned that, too. There can be no shortcuts. It is vital that we invest in education and training—there is no doubt about that.

Equally, we have to invest in digitalisation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is responsible for digital inclusion, is 100 per cent. behind ensuring that we have a comprehensive strategy to ensure that everyone benefits from the new technological revolution that is gathering momentum all the time.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) had some impressive and innovative ideas about the new banking system that needs to emerge. His ideas will be well worth debating in future.

A number of Members mentioned the need for a strategic investment in transport infrastructure. Again, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham referred to that, as did the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent when he spoke about the Heads of the Valleys road. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) referred to it, too, and I wholly agree with his comments. However, I am not so sure that I will take him up on his offer to join him on an aeroplane.

26 Feb 2009 : Column 471

The debate was also significant because we heard some trenchant and controversial remarks from my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn). However, I believe that the Government of Wales Act 1998 has been very successful. Yes, it could be streamlined and improved, but basically it is working very well. One reason it is working well is the good work being undertaken by the Welsh Affairs Committee. To have good legislation, it is vital to have effective pre-legislative scrutiny. I believe that that is what the Welsh Affairs Committee provides. I say that because I shall be giving evidence to the Committee on Monday on the important issue of carers and I hope that its members will not be too hard on me.

Obviously, another important issue that will come before the Welsh Affairs Committee is the Welsh language LCO. As a number of Members have said, it is important that in seeking to develop and promote the Welsh language we should seek consensus in Wales. We should take all the people of Wales with us, non-Welsh speakers as well as Welsh speakers. It is important to recognise that the advances with the Welsh language have been made because there has been not just an acceptance of it but positive support for it. That must be taken forward and that is the way to build the Welsh language for the future.

I welcome the remarks from the English hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) because it is vital that we recognise that Wales is not separate from England and that the cross-border links between our two countries are important. The Welsh Affairs Committee, again, has highlighted the importance of that relationship at all times. However, I did take some exception to the implication in his remarks about the future of Welsh representation. He pointed out how many electors he represents and how many the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire represents. My concern is that some people in the Conservative party might therefore conclude that we need fewer Welsh MPs, and it would be a huge mistake to go down that road— [ Interruption. ] Given the mutterings that we are hearing, I think that we are beginning to see the true face of the Conservative party again. This debate shows, above all else, that Welsh MPs have a vital role to play in the future development of Wales, and long may we have positive debates such as the one we have had this afternoon.

Question put and agreed to.


26 Feb 2009 : Column 472

Housing Subsidy

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —(Mr. Watts.)

6 pm

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise in the House the issue of housing subsidy. I look forward to the Minister’s response to our short debate on important issues that are of concern to my constituents, particularly those who pay rent to my local council.

Tenants in my constituency want a decent home, but at present far too many of them do not have one. I shall illustrate what I mean. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit tenants on the Chaucer estate in my constituency. Tenants on the estate, especially in Chaucer house, showed me the water coming into their flats through the windows, the electrical, plumbing and heating systems that need to be renewed, the roofs that need repairing and the poor lighting and security systems that need replacing. Tenants on the Collingwood estate, especially in Balaam house, need much of the same work done to their block. Very simply, when it rains they want the rain to stay outside and not to come into their flats.

People living on the Shanklin and Benhill estates want control of their heating costs, but above all they want new windows. The list could go on. Too many of the council homes in my constituency fail to meet the decent homes standards that we all want everyone not just to aspire to but to enjoy.

Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) cannot be in the Chamber this evening, but he very much supports the sentiments that I am expressing. If he were here, he would want the Minister to be aware of the St. Helier estate in his constituency, where 800 box bathrooms were installed more than 40 years ago, to the delight of tenants at the time. They were meant to last only for 15 years, yet they are still there today. Furthermore, they are becoming a nightmare for the tenants, not just because they are coming away from the houses but because they are also full of asbestos, which might have been thought appropriate building material 40 years ago but, as we know, is no longer acceptable.

My purpose in seeking the debate is to ask—even beg—the Minister to do whatever he can to unlock the funds of £120 million allocated to Sutton by the Department for Communities and Local Government, and to do it now because the need is so great and so urgent—really urgent in the case of the box bathrooms. Against that background of need for investment in decent homes, council tenants find it hard to believe that so much of what they pay in rent does not stay in the borough.

A tenant in my constituency paying rent to Sutton council might reasonably expect the rent to go towards maintaining their home and providing services for themselves and their neighbours who are council tenants, as would any tenant anywhere. It should be clear to tenants who is accountable for setting the rent that they pay and who is responsible for the quality of housing and services that they receive.

Next Section Index Home Page