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25 Feb 2010 : Column 519

Mr. Bone also raised the issue of the green economy, which we all agree needs to be developed in this country. Wales could be a beacon of excellence for green jobs. He raised concerns about the Energy Technologies Institute, which is partly funded by Government money and ought to support industries in the United Kingdom, but appears to spend a lot of its money supporting industries from other parts of Europe. If we are serious about developing the green economy and green jobs, we need to ensure that any public money from British taxpayers is spent on British businesses.

On training and so on, the rosy picture that the Secretary of State paints does not correspond with what is seen by my constituents. In that regard, I want to raise the issue of apprenticeships. Recently, a 20-year-old, Damien Radnor of Raglan, came to see me. He is a very enthusiastic, intelligent and articulate young man, who looked around and realised that the country had a shortage of electricians. He spent two years in a local college near Monmouthshire-just outside my constituency, but that is not important-training to become an electrician. He needs to spend a further year working as an apprentice, with an electrician, to complete his course in college. Despite his having written to more than 40 people-I have seen the letters-all have had to turn him down. They are not taking on apprentices, for a variety of reasons: employment legislation makes it difficult; there is no real money to support employers who want to take on apprentices. Consequently, everyone's time and money is being wasted. This young man gave up a well-paid job to study, and spent two years of his life and a lot of money on the process. Presumably, the college course would have been subsidised in some way by the Government, so taxpayer's money was being spent as well. At the end of it, a bright and enthusiastic young man, who wants to go out and work and is willing to write to everyone he can think of, is unable to get a placement as an apprentice. The Secretary of State may shake his head, but I could introduce him to that young man, and I assure him that that is exactly what has happened. More needs to be done to help young people who want apprenticeships.

We have heard, of course, about the national health service. Someone said that it had been invented by Labour in the teeth of opposition. That is the sort of one-sided view of history that Labour Members get away with all too often. The reality is that people were not dying in the streets before the health service was formed. Moreover, it was not really a Labour Government who invented it. If anything, it was invented by a civil servant called Beveridge during the second world war. It was accepted by Members in all parts of the House that the national health service, in one form or another, would be introduced after the second world war regardless of who won the election. A health service was already functioning- [Interruption.] Hon. Members may shake their heads and laugh if they want to.

Albert Owen: The social policies devised by Beveridge, which were introduced by the Labour Government in the NHS more than 60 years ago, were opposed by the Conservative party at the time. That is a fact and is on the record of the House, and the hon. Gentleman ought to acknowledge it.

David T. C. Davies: What I will acknowledge is this. Beveridge's report was published in, I believe, 1942. It
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was certainly published while the country was being led by a Conservative Prime Minister. No one at that time disputed the central basis of the report.

Lembit Öpik rose-

David T. C. Davies: I will give way in a moment, because I am not afraid to debate the real history of this country with anyone.

There were probably arguments about the way in which the health service would be introduced, but there is no doubt that no Member wanted to see people dying in the streets, and that had not happened before the introduction of the national health service. It did not happen afterwards either, but I am afraid that thousands of needless deaths are taking place now. I am not talking just about the recent ones that we all know about. This has been going on for far too long, and one of the reasons, I believe, is that anyone who tries to make any criticism of the NHS is immediately accused of wanting to get rid of it, although in fact most Conservative Members want to see it function better.

Lembit Öpik: I hold the hon. Gentleman in high regard, and I am grateful to him for giving way. I should say, however, that Beveridge-who was a Liberal-would quite evidently have failed in his ambition to introduce the NHS had the Conservatives won the general election in 1945. The hon. Gentleman has accused other hon. Members of rewriting history, but what he has said constitutes the most flagrant rewriting of history that we have heard all day.

David T. C. Davies: I look forward to returning to that piece of history on another occasion, but now I want to talk about the present.

I am a user of the NHS. All my children were born in NHS hospitals, except one who was born at home with the help of NHS staff. One of my children has had to spend consecutive Christmases in hospital, once in eastern Europe and once in the United Kingdom. The staff in both hospitals were superb-I have no complaint whatsoever about them-but the standards in a not particularly prosperous part of rural eastern Europe were at least as good as those in Abergavenny.

In that hospital in rural Hungary my daughter had her own room, as did everyone else. There was always a doctor on the ward, never more than a few paces away, 24 hours a day. That is not the experience of people who come into contact with the NHS in the United Kingdom. So please let us not tell ourselves that the NHS is the envy of the world. It is not. There are problems with it, and we should not be blind to them. We should not allow ourselves to ignore any criticisms of the organisation of the NHS for fear of criticising the staff, and I should make it clear that I do not in any way criticise the staff.

Let me give an example of how the health service is letting people down. Another of my constituents, 93-year-old Reginald Lewis, who is in the Severn View residential home in Chepstow, asked me to raise his case in the House today. He served in the armed forces, he has worked all his life, and he is paying his own fees at the nursing home of £1,700 a month. He has an open leg wound. He says that the nursing staff have been excellent in trying to treat him, but his condition is simply not getting better. He went to see a doctor, and was told-a
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93-year-old man who had served in the armed forces-that he would have to wait six to 12 months before anyone from the NHS would even look at the wound or do anything about it. That is absolutely disgraceful.

Finally, as issues affecting elderly people were rightly mentioned earlier, I shall now raise the issue of pensions. The Secretary of State was responsible, in one of his many previous guises, for setting up the Pension Protection Fund, which comes into effect when companies go bankrupt by, effectively, taking over the pension scheme and paying people 90 per cent. of their pension. It is not a bad idea to give the Secretary of State credit where it is due, and some is due in this instance, so I shall give it to him without any malice. However, he seems to have overlooked one important point: a lot of people whose companies went bankrupt and whose schemes were taken over by the PPF have been let down because prior to working in the companies that went bankrupt they had other jobs.

Mrs. Jordan came to see me about this matter. She had worked for a different company for a number of years, and she transferred her pension rights into the new company, which then went bankrupt. It was taken over by the PPF and she was told she would get a pension of about 90 per cent., which is £13,000 a year. That was not good news for her, but neither was it a life-changing disaster. The PPF subsequently discovered a legal loophole, however, which allowed it to reduce her pension by the amount that had been paid in from the previous company, because when the PPF takes over a scheme, it takes over only that scheme, and only the pension rights paid directly into the company that has gone bankrupt are credited to the individual, not any previous pension moneys from other companies that have been paid into the scheme of the company that has gone bankrupt. Effectively, therefore, Mrs. Jordan has been robbed of a large sum from her pension, and the capital money has gone to the PPF, which is using it for other things. I acknowledge that that point is a little complicated, but there will be many people who are in the same position as Mrs. Jordan in that as a result of this loophole they have lost out on money that is rightfully theirs. We should not be using legal loopholes when dealing with paying people's pensions. We should be looking at what is right and fair, and doing the right thing by people.

I have probably spoken for long enough, as I want every hon. Member who wishes to do so to be able to contribute. I shall conclude by echoing the words of a previous, well-known Labour leader. What will happen if Labour gets re-elected again? Based on the experience of my constituents, I warn you not to try to set up a business; I warn you not to try to better yourself by going to university or trying to get an apprenticeship; I warn you not to get ill; and I warn you not to get old.

4.2 pm

Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): May I begin by paying tribute to all the Welsh members of our armed forces in Afghanistan, particularly those who, sadly, have been killed in the service of our country, including Corporal Dean John from my constituency? We should also not forget their families, many of whom are very active in voluntary organisations. For example, Dean's mother, Mrs. Deborah John, is very active and doing
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outstanding work in our area in the well-known organisation SAFFA-the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association.

We should also remember the work of the Royal British Legion. I am sure many Members on both sides of the House would join me in endorsing the RBL general election manifesto. Many of my constituents have drawn it to my attention, and I am delighted to endorse that manifesto. Two of them, Tom Fellows and Roger Sheppard, have been doing some excellent work in recent years. I wish to draw particular attention to two policies in the manifesto, which have already been referred to by many Members:

and, tackle poverty among older veterans and widows.

As many Members have said, this Welsh day debate provides us with a welcome opportunity to reflect on our work over the last year and to look forward to the future. In the past year, we all looked back on what I, and many Members on both sides of the House, would call a decade of achievement in democratic devolution, or as my distinguished predecessor, Lord Morris of Aberavon, rightly and often termed it, the repatriation of power to Wales.

I am proud to say, as an enthusiastic supporter of democratic devolution, that the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, which I chair, has had a growing and always benign role in that process, both scrutinising Government policy and, in more recent times, working with our Welsh Assembly colleagues on pre-legislative scrutiny of LCOs. In a remarkably busy, almost frenetic, five years, the Committee has held 43 inquiries, ranging from the mammoth globalisation inquiry that took place over 18 months, where we called senior Burberry executives to account, to the one-day sitting on the Legal Services Commission. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) for her work in that field. When we held that inquiry we successfully called Government Ministers to account. I should add that 25 of these inquiries took place in the past two years, when we were also undertaking our LCO work.

It has been an exceptionally busy last year for the Welsh Affairs Committee. About half our work over the past 12 months has been on scrutinising LCOs and thus devolving further powers to the Assembly. As we have heard from other hon. Members, these included the Welsh language LCO, which has now received Royal Assent and has paved the way for new Measures relating to the Welsh language to be passed in the Assembly. The publication of our enlightened and unanimous report was arguably our greatest achievement over the past five years. The environment LCO has also completed its progress and will enable Wales to lead the way in tackling pollution and litter and in encouraging recycling.

The Committee recently reported on its 15th LCO and has now completed work on all the LCOs that have been laid before the House. That is surprising, given that two years ago many people outside this House would not have believed that we could have done this work. Despite much doom and gloom in those quarters-people were daunted by what they described as "complexity" and did not understand that all legislative processes are complex-we did win through in the end.
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I wish to thank all the members of the Committee for their dedication and commitment to completing this scrutiny work in a timely and very thorough fashion. Whether the latest LCOs complete their remaining parliamentary stages will depend on the date of the general election, but my Committee has worked hard to make sure that they have every chance of doing so.

I am pleased that our work has been recognised elsewhere, and not only in debates in this House. For example, it was recognised by Sir Gus O'Donnell, the head of the civil service, when he gave evidence to us recently as part of our current inquiry into the relationship between Wales and Whitehall. It will be the last major inquiry that the Committee undertakes during this Parliament, but it will also be one of the most important. It was inspired by a short inquiry that we completed last year into the decision by the Legal Services Commission to scale down its operations in Cardiff. That decision was taken without consulting the Welsh Assembly Government or the Wales Office, and with no regard to increasing legal divergence post devolution. As a result of our inquiry, the LSC has not implemented its planned changes and is reconsidering its decisions. That is just one example of a decision being made centrally with no proper awareness of its potential impact on Wales.

Equally, we have also heard about decisions being made in Cardiff without full regard for the impact they may have on those needing to cross the border regularly. We have continued to investigate cross-border services for people who travel between England and Wales for health care and education, as well as the quality of cross-border transport links. We believe that our work in this area has improved access to hospitals and colleges for those living near the border, who have sometimes suffered from gaps in provision when the different policies of the UK Government and Welsh Assembly Government were not properly joined up.

We were particularly pleased to have the opportunity to take evidence jointly with the Assembly's Enterprise and Learning Committee on cross-border rail links. I warmly welcome the announcement, as I am sure that colleagues from all parties will, that the great western main line between Swansea and London is to be electrified, as our Committee strongly recommended shortly before the announcement was made. We will shortly publish a follow-up report to our cross-border inquiry.

The evidence we have taken during our current inquiry into Wales and Whitehall has shown that devolution requires both Cardiff and London to be committed to communicating properly with one another and considering the impacts of their policies at both ends of the M4. Wales's interests must be considered when UK policy is developed, but the communication problems we have uncovered do not go only in one direction. It is important not only that Members of this House understand that, but that the media should convey that message. I think that the situation is improving, with greater awareness being shown by all parties, perhaps as a result of some of my Committee's inquiries-and I am sure that our forthcoming report will contribute to improving relationships still further.

Let me now make some positive observations about the coming period on the basis of recent oral evidence given to our Committee. First, we had a very constructive evidence session with the Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Health and Social Services, Mrs. Edwina
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Hart. It highlighted the possibility that Wales could take a lead on the health and rehabilitation of veterans across the UK. It was an illuminating evidence session and I can see Members nodding in agreement about how important Mrs. Hart's evidence was. Her strong desire to work with the Ministry of Defence and with other devolved Administrations provided a policy possibility that the Committee warmly welcomed and that it will consider closely if we have the good fortune to be Members of this House in the new Parliament.

Secondly, the willingness of senior civil servants to give frank and insightful observations on strategy and performance in our Wales and Whitehall inquiry was another recent welcome development. The process of devolution needs transparency and constant analysis as well as self-criticism from politicians and officials alike. Now that they have come out of the shadows, so to speak, we want to encourage these senior civil servants to come under the spotlight regularly-perhaps appearing before us once a year.

I am sure that senior civil servants, whether they are in Cardiff Bay or Whitehall, will wish to be measured by the watchword of universities throughout Wales: "Goreu Awen Gwirionedd", or "The best inspiration is truth." That has certainly been the inspiration of our Committee in its service to the people of Wales. It has been a privilege to have chaired it over the past five years. We have benefited from constructive working relations with two Secretaries of State and two First Ministers. I pay tribute to them all and to the dedicated and professional work of Select Committee staff.

In conclusion, let me join others in paying tribute to all right hon. and hon. Friends and Members who are standing down at the next general election. In particular, may I pay personal tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), a successful Wales Office and Defence Minister who has worked so hard for miners' compensation and for our veterans? His insightful and independent thinking will be sorely missed in the House, and we all admired the contribution that he made to the debate earlier. I wish him and Jennifer well in the future. If he stands for public office again elsewhere, I have offered to be his election agent.

4.14 pm

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I echo the observations that have just been made regarding our retiring friends.

If people did not have problems, we would not have jobs, and we sometimes forget the point that David Lloyd George, who was unquestionably the greatest Prime Minister of the 20th century, made when he said:

That is never truer than in periods of economic trouble, and these are tough times. In Montgomeryshire, we have been very busy with closures, with downsizing and with trying to prevent the worst effects of the recession from taking hold. Indeed, we have recently had problems with the potential loss of another 180 jobs, and it has been almost a full-time occupation to try to protect them.

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