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25 Feb 2010 : Column 513

Hywel Williams: Indeed it would, but the public debate so often seems to be on features of the NHS in England. Perhaps that will change as the election approaches.

On the care at home Green Paper, which is another concern of older people, the UK Government have long promised to do something about the cost of care, dating back well into the last century. The Green Paper that was rolled out could apply directly only to England, because care is devolved, but then disability living allowance and attendance allowance came to the fore, and it was said that they could be used to pay for care. The implications of the Green Paper for Wales were unclear. Vulnerable people in Wales who depend on the DLA and attendance allowance were alarmed by press reports, some of which were extremely unclear, and many of which did not refer to the England-only nature of the proposals. Those proposals have changed steadily, and I understand that now the intention is that, for existing claimants and those over 65, the DLA and attendance allowance will be looked at for those in England only. I look forward to the Government explaining this issue further.

The Conservative proposals for residential care costs are even more irrelevant to Wales, given that they depend on the taking out of insurance policies at a cost of £8,000-although the figures are disputed and others say that the real costs would be somewhat higher. There would be a problem for Welsh pensioners who depend on the retirement pension. Age Concern says that all older people should enjoy an adequate standard of living, but 119,000 Welsh pensioners are living in poverty. That is why we would introduce our policy of a living pension, to bring together the pension credit and the current retirement pension, which would be paid for out of the tax relief that now goes to higher rate taxpayers on their pension contributions.

This will be a very important election. All the polls now point to a Parliament with no party in overall control, so there will be an opportunity to hear the voices of the people of Wales which are so often submerged in the big party battles in this place.

I said earlier that St. David had several injunctions for us, including the exhortation to be joyous. I am afraid that my speech has been somewhat pessimistic, but I am by nature an optimist, and I have a deep belief in the ability of the people of Wales to overcome difficulties. We are survivors, as demonstrated by our mastery of the elements of the industrial revolution, the overcoming of the terrible depression of the 1930s and the relative prosperity of the 1960s and 1970s, and our coping with the disaster of Tory rule under Mrs. Thatcher and then under Mr. Major. However, we can be much more than survivors if we so choose. There is a carping tendency in Wales. We can talk ourselves down, but I do not want to be part of that.

I am a great admirer of Idris Davies-I suppose that I should call him the socialist poet-the author of "Gwalia Deserta" and "The Angry Summer: A Poem of 1926". I should point out to the right hon. Member for Islwyn that Idris Davies was also a Plaid Cymru member, at least in his last days. He was remarkably prescient. In his poem "The Telephones are Ringing", he may have been foreseeing recent events in this place when he says:

"The telephones are ringing

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And treachery's in the air.

The sleek one,

the expert at compromise

is bowing in Whitehall".

David T. C. Davies: I, too, am fond of Idris Davies's poems, and one of his more famous ones was "When we walked to Merthyr Tydfil". Of course he would not have needed to walk there had there been a Conservative Government, because we invested millions of pounds in the Heads of the Valleys road and other dual carriageways to allow new industry to get into those valleys.

Hywel Williams: The hon. Gentleman now has the headline for his next press release.

Idris Davies was often viewed as the poet of the depression, but he had some very funny things to say as well. I came across a poem about the people who have a tendency to talk Wales down:

I am not one of those looking for the miserabilist option. I do not say, "That is not for us, we cannot do it." That is the Welsh voice, the half-mocking self-doubt combined with the blind fervour that we deserve better, that we can do better. The second tendency is the one that we should foster, and that is the duty of every democratic representative from Wales.

We should not always say no, or refuse change. Instead, we should set the abilities and the aspirations of the people of Wales free. We have a duty to make and remake our nation, and that is a duty that I commend to the Welsh Members of this House.

3.35 pm

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate held on St. David's day. It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams). I want to echo many of the points made, particularly from the Labour Benches, and to wish all retiring Members all the best for the future-they have been good friends and comrades.

Like the hon. Member for Caernarfon, I am an optimist and have great hope and confidence in what we can achieve in Wales. I do not play down the amount of suffering during the recession in my constituency, but despite all that I see great signs of hope. As I mentioned earlier, my constituency has seen a growth in the number of private companies and jobs, and last week I visited the partially built positron emission tomography-PET-scanner in the Heath hospital, which will be one of the most advanced scanners in the UK and the world. It is able to detect cancers and other diseases at a very early stage, because it detects the movement of cells. It is a miracle of engineering. I visited it and thought it one of the most advanced mechanisms of medical discovery in
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the world-and it has been built for the Health hospital and the health service in Cardiff. That is a huge tribute to what we can achieve.

Recently, I also visited many schools in my constituency to look at the new three to seven-year-old learn-through-play foundation phase. Huge resources have been put into that, and it is a delight to visit. Most of all, visiting the foundation phase classes, I was struck by the huge enthusiasm of the teachers. They said, "This is what we have always wanted for education. We want children to learn in this way, when they can express themselves." I am sure that it will be of long-term benefit to the children in Wales.

Those are just a few of the things that have given me this feeling of great optimism recently. However, I want to use most of my contribution to concentrate on one particular constituency issue-the big threat to the Llanishen reservoir in my constituency, and the threat to Cardiff as a whole. The threat has been of development and of concreting over part of the Llanishen reservoir, and the newest threat is of draining the reservoir. I have been campaigning on this issue for eight years, and I am sure that everybody here is probably fed up with hearing me mention it. I remember raising it at nearly every session of business questions when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was Leader of the House.

I am sure that most people here would have thought that this issue was settled and do not want to listen to me going on about it again. However, we are in a difficult situation. Western Power Distribution, which is a subsidiary of Pennsylvania Power and Light, has spent eight years trying to build a housing estate on Llanishen reservoir. Several planning applications have failed and there have been several appeals. There is no permission to build, and the plans are contrary to the existing council policy and the local development plan. The plans have also been strongly opposed by the local reservoir action group, and I would like to pay tribute to its present chairman, Andrew Hill, and its past chairman, Ted Thurgood, for their magnificent efforts in opposing the development.

Cardiff, unlike some cities, does not really have a green belt, but has four green wedges that follow the rivers that enter the city. Those green wedges go right down into the centre of the city, which gives the opportunity for many people in Cardiff to benefit from greenness, even if they live right in the centre of the town. Llanishen reservoir is based in one of these wedges, and development has always been forbidden in the Nant Fawr corridor. Despite the council's policy to keep the corridor for nature and greenery, WPD has engaged in eight years of attrition, seeking to build on, and now drain, the reservoir.

The reservoir is a hugely attractive amenity. Cardiff council has a sailing school there, where youngsters learn to sail, and it has unique water, which is absolutely pure, being made up entirely of rainwater. If someone falls out of the boat into Llanishen reservoir, there is no fear of suffering the effects of pollution.

Last Friday we received a telephone call at my office. It was reported to me that there was a lot of commotion up at the reservoir, so I went there personally and saw that pipes had been delivered and a unit set up. There were two security guards, who refused to grant me entry, and preparations for the draining of the reservoir had begun. WPD's justification for draining the reservoir is based on a 2008 report by a Dr. Andy Hughes, a dam
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engineer employed by the developer. The only recommendation in the report that is legally enforceable by the Environment Agency does not require the emptying of the reservoir. We fear that WPD is proceeding to drain the reservoir in order to make its planning application more likely to succeed.

Mark Acford, the enforcement officer in reservoir safety at the Environment Agency in Exeter, confirmed in writing to WPD on 18 February that Dr. Hughes's report does not specifically require a draw-down of the reservoir in the interests of safety. We now know that Dr. Hughes had inaccurate information. He thought that a draw-down would enable pipes at the bottom of the reservoir to be inspected for safety, but it is now known that those pipes are encased in concrete. He had also been told that there were regular leaks from a pipe that leads out from the reservoir, but that pipe has never leaked.

Because it was known that Dr. Hughes had based other suggestions that a draw-down was needed on incorrect information, RAG, the local action group, commissioned one of the most experienced and qualified water engineers in the country, Mr. Chris Binnie, to prepare a review of the situation. His detailed report, which is now fully in the public domain, is adamant that the emptying of the reservoir is not needed, either on safety grounds or to carry out the required survey. Mr. Binnie confirms in his report that he has spoken to Dr. Hughes on several occasions and had a meeting with him. Binnie confirms in his executive summary on page 2 that Dr. Hughes has said that

Dr. Hughes-

but that he has

Binnie says that Hughes was unaware when he wrote his report in 2008 of the new information now to hand, which makes emptying the reservoir unnecessary. However, despite formal requests, he is refusing to review his recommendations.

We are therefore in a difficult situation. The threatened draining of the reservoir will have dire consequences for people in my constituency and in Cardiff generally. The youth sailing centre would be out of action for eight years, which is how long it would take to fill the reservoir up with rainwater. The ecology of the reservoir would be lost. It contains 300 million gallons of pure rainwater. There would be a threat of pollution to the streams that lead into Roath Park lake, with 10,000 cubic metres of silt being discharged.

There would also be likely structural damage to the clay core of the dam if it was left empty for a long period, as clay must be kept wet. Fissures or cracks would develop, and in those circumstances it would be easy for a leak to spring and the reservoir never to be refilled. That is important because the reservoir is now a listed building-the entire structure has been listed by Cadw-so any risk of damage is a criminal offence. Binnie says that if the reservoir was empty for six months, it could be damaged. Some precautionary action must be taken. In my view, the council or Cadw have the grounds to take out an injunction because of the damage that could be caused.

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The fundamental issues are that Hughes is refusing to reconsider his report in the light of new evidence. That raises issues about his professional integrity. RAG did not criticise his initial report on the grounds that he had incorrect information, but the two reasons that he gave for draining the reservoir are no longer valid, and it seems that Hughes is being muzzled by his client. I am pleased to have the opportunity to lay that out publicly today. I feel strongly that something must be done. Two engineers are fundamentally disagreeing about the way ahead, and one engineer is refusing to consider new evidence. Is there any way in which the Secretary of State could intervene, or ask Welsh Assembly Ministers to intervene? Perhaps the Institution of Civil Engineers could appoint an adjudicator to consider both reports. We need a cessation of draining while a review takes place. We need a stay of execution.

I strongly believe that Cardiff city council has the power to issue an injunction to stop the draining of the reservoir, because its sailing school is threatened. I also think that Cadw could issue an injunction to stop the damage being done to the listed building. Many of my constituents feel very strongly about this, and there is a strong campaign being run by the local newspaper, the South Wales Echo. Many people have written to WPD's parent company in the United States to highlight the strength of feeling, not only in my constituency but in the whole of the Cardiff area, that this reservoir and its area of natural beauty-which includes a site of special scientific interest-should be preserved. WPD has power and money. It has put up its dreadful steel fences and brought in its security guards. It seems absolutely determined to destroy this listed monument in the SSSI, which is part of the Nant Fawr corridor and is one of the features that gives Cardiff its uniqueness.

I am glad to have had the chance to put this situation on record today. I am appealing to the Secretary of State to see whether there is anything that he can do. There are many other important issues affecting my constituency, but I have chosen this one because it has touched so many people in Cardiff, North, and because of the many aspects-recreation, beauty, greenness and wildlife-that are so important for communities.

Mr. Hain: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and allowing me to respond briefly. I am well aware of her passionate defence of the reservoir; I recall her raising the subject regularly. I will certainly look into the matter carefully, as Secretary of State, and in any case raise it with the First Minister, as she has requested.

Julie Morgan: I thank my right hon. Friend for those comments. I hope that he will be able to do something, or at least encourage others to do something. With that, I shall conclude my remarks.

3.47 pm

David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I am grateful for this opportunity to say a few words. I should like to follow up on points raised by the right hon. Members for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) and for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). I have a great deal of respect for both of them, and I shall miss the right hon. Gentleman. It was slightly disappointing, however, if not entirely surprising, that both of them chose to repeat a rather one-sided view of the economic history of this country of the past 20 years.

25 Feb 2010 : Column 518

The right hon. Lady seems to forget that people in Wales suffered far more in the 1970s, when interest rates were higher than they ever were under a Conservative Government. The industrial chaos that was wreaked by the previous Labour Government is mirrored by the financial chaos that has been imposed on us by the current one. She also gave the House a rather one-sided view of the miners' strike. She forgot a couple of key points. First, the Labour Government of Harold Wilson closed down far more mines than the Conservative Government of Mrs. Thatcher. Secondly, the miners were not given any opportunity to vote on whether they wished to go on strike, in Wales or anywhere else, during that strike. They were being used by the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers to try to bring down a democratically elected Government, just as they were used in the early 1970s. It was for that reason that the miners' union leaders did not get the support of the Government, or of leading members of the Opposition either.

The Secretary of State made pretty much the same speech that he always makes, attacking Conservative policy on everything that happened during the 1980s while skimming briefly over the record of the Labour Government of the past 12 or 13 years. I do not want to rehearse all the economic arguments, the arguments about the health service and so on. I just want to draw his attention to a few key cases in my constituency that demonstrate the failure of Labour in Parliament and in the Welsh Assembly.

The Secretary of State spoke first about the economy, and rightly so. He painted a rosy picture. One thing he certainly did not mention was the Severn bridge and its impact on the economy in Wales at the moment. He must be perfectly well aware that the Humber bridge has had a freeze put on any increases in tolls as a result, the Government said, of the bad economic crisis. I have looked at the matter, and users of the Humber bridge pay roughly the same as users of the Severn bridge, although the charging mechanism is slightly different. I cannot understand why people living in the Humber area of England can escape a rise in fees-I wish them all the best and I do not criticise the Government for that-while Welsh people, especially those living in south Wales who commute over the Severn bridge every day, are being treated like second-class citizens and are not being given the same rights as people living in the Humber area. Could it be that there is a Labour marginal seat in Humber, and that the Government are simply trying to buy votes? I would welcome clarification from the Minister with responsibility for that.

I go around my constituency speaking to people in business, and they do not recognise the rosy picture painted by the Secretary of State. I recently met David Bone, an engineer and the director of Ocean Resource Ltd, which creates designs for oil refineries and wind farms. He is a successful entrepreneur and a man who is actually doing things that can help to build the economy. He tells me that he has contacted the Welsh Assembly on numerous occasions to discuss aspects of grant funding, and that he has never even received the courtesy of a reply. I find that absolutely reprehensible. I have spent a long time talking to him, and I have no reason to disbelieve him. He tells me categorically that he has corresponded with Ministers in the Welsh Assembly and that none of them had the courtesy even to write back to him, which is extraordinary.

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