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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord could keep to the time.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, I will. Next year the costs will be increased enormously. At the same time, there are no controls on imports to satisfy any of this country's public health requirements. I know that the Secretary of State saw a delegation of Welsh farmers recently. They were impressed by his reception of what they said. They suggested action that could be put into operation straightaway to try to help the farming community. In the interests of the Welsh rural community, something must be done to help very quickly.

4.32 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, the Motion of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell calls attention to economic and social progress in Wales and how good governance can be maintained. At the moment, in north Wales the latter is in disarray. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hooson--I agreed with 90 per cent. of what he said, especially when he talked about the pedigree of the Holyhead-landed beefburgers--I shall consider how the Motion will apply to the farming community in north west Wales. Before doing so, I have to admit to farming in Anglesey.

As opposed to the scenario of south and east Wales, painted by my noble friend, farming in north Wales and Anglesey has changed relatively little. Indeed, the economy and social life have changed relatively little compared with, say, Oxfordshire where I also farm. The farms are small. They are owner-occupied. That has resulted in a different social structure which has relied, and does rely, much more upon the farming community than occurs in England.

If that community collapses, which it looks like doing today, the Welsh culture and language will suffer a blow. The Government may say, "So what?" I should be sad. The Welsh farmers' present unrest has been brought to a head by the collapse of beef and sheep prices--the only farming commodities produced in Wales. That has been due to the UK Government refusing to take up EU rebates, whereas all other hard currency countries have. The Irish, for instance, are £50 per beast better off than Welsh producers. This is a UK Government self-inflicted wound. It is no wonder that feeling is running high.

Although 99 per cent. of farmers are against violent or unlawful action, there has inevitably been some. It would have been much worse but for the restraining action of farmers' leaders and the commendable action of the North Wales police. The Government should not continue to rely on their remaining patient forever. I fear

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that the situation will be further aggravated by today's announcement that bones must be removed from lamb over 12 months. That is a final nail, if I may say so. Some action must be taken to alleviate the immediate problem of the playing field being unlevel.

Noble Lords may feel that the Holyhead action resembles the Boston tea party. There has been a total failure to understand the long-term problem of Welsh farmers. The Government should understand the rural way of life. Their attitude does not lead to good governance. It is more likely to lead to the Highlands clearance scenario, which is most unpleasant.

We were told by the Prime Minister before the election, and he has reiterated time and time again since, that he would listen, act and create a one-nation society. Sadly, and I fully recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, does not fall into this category, the Government appear neither to listen nor to act when problems occur in the countryside. The Prime Minister sent no message to the countryside rally in Hyde Park, which was thoughtless to a degree bearing in mind that he had done so to homosexuals the week before. The Government appear to be taking a similarly thoughtless attitude to country sports. What is most important to me, they have deliberately made an unlevel playing field which gives the Irish producer £50 per beast more than the Welsh. They also, as the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said allow in 30 month-old beef. I cannot understand that.

The Government appear determined to make those who work in the countryside second class citizens, further setting town against country. That has resulted in militant action by my neighbours, which I regret but fully understand. What else can they do when driven up against the wall? Do they join the already long dole queues in Holyhead?

A sorry state of affairs has not been helped by the Government's huge majority which has allowed them to ignore those of us who work and try to earn a living in the countryside, and north west Wales in particular. The Government are showing the worst face of democracy. Such an attitude will lead only to impossible governance. I fear that as the Welsh assembly will inevitably be urban-dominated it will not help. We must bear in mind, as my noble friend said, that only 25 per cent. of the electorate voted for it. I agree with my noble friend that your Lordships should not reverse that narrow decision.

The present unrest and picketing may well continue. My neighbours say that it will. It may well spread; indeed, it has. It was instantaneous in Anglesey. When it ceases, the criticism, the suspicion and, yes, the hatred will remain unless the Government take action to show that they understand our rural problems, both financial and social, as the noble Lord said. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, understands that. I hope that he will be able to persuade his colleagues of our problems.

4.40 p.m.

Lord Aberdare: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Crickhowell for giving the House the opportunity to debate Welsh affairs. Happily, I agree with everything he said, in particular about our attitude to the assembly.

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We must accept that there will be an assembly, but I was alarmed when I read the report of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, Making the Assembly Work. It did not sound as though it would work in the way which the institute suggested.

The letter, published with the report, stated:

    "The Assembly will operate through a complex network of committees. There will be at least nine Subject Committees... In addition the White Paper requires there will be a Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, an Audit Committee and an unspecified number of Regional Committees...there will be a European Committee and...a Finance Committee...there will undoubtedly be sub-committees...there might be as many as 30".

I believe that we would be in danger of creating a juggernaut if we were to go down that path.

In my brief intervention, I wish to speak, under the social progress heading, in particular about the problems of young people in Wales. Although they suffer from the same problems as young people in this country, those in some localities suffer badly. I instance the former mining valleys of south Wales where youth unemployment is still at a totally unacceptable figure of almost 10 per cent. That is compounded by serious unemployment in the rural areas, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and my noble friend Lord Stanley. As a result, young people tend to move to the towns in search of work. The next problem that arises for them is that of homelessness. Even worse, they may take to drugs or alcohol in their disillusion.

A number of dedicated voluntary bodies in Wales are dealing with those problems. I do not wish to detract from their work but to point out that my interest is with the YMCA. I am honoured to be its president and I believe that it does an excellent job. Perhaps I may give an example. My nearest town in Wales is the small market town of Llandovery with a population of almost 1,400. It has 15 pubs. Until recently, they were about the only places where young people could go in their spare time. Now, thanks to the initiative of one young lady, Jill Tatman, there is a flourishing YMCA. She gathered around her a few young people meeting once a week in the school hall and formed a YMCA. It was immediately clear that she had hit on what was needed because many young people attended. Of course, one day a week in the school hall was not satisfactory. Now, thanks to generous sponsors and a grant from the National Lottery, she runs a very active YMCA with some 90 members three days a week in a refurbished church hall. There are many similar instances throughout Wales.

Nevertheless, the YMCA has considerable problems due, as always, to lack of funds. Each local YMCA is independent but is affiliated to the national council which offers advice and support. Each YMCA depends on one fully-trained youth worker who forms the catalyst around which there grows a circle of volunteers recruited and organised by him. Without such a central, full-time organiser, it is very difficult for volunteers to be recruited and used to the best purpose.

In some areas, we have found a helpful local authority to pay the salary of a full-time youth leader, but in others, unfortunately, we are not receiving the same level of support, in particular from the new unitary

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authorities. In fact, the Vale of Glamorgan and the Caerphilly councils have entirely withdrawn their support. That has resulted in the serious loss of four trained leaders.

Despite those difficulties, the YMCA is continuing to help young people. We have more affiliated clubs than at any time in the past 25 years and they are used by more members and regular users--approximately 32,000--which makes us the biggest organisation in Wales. We offer temporary homes for the homeless, training for the unemployed, no-alcohol bars to provide a social meeting place and a wide range of sports facilities.

Perhaps I may give Cardiff as an example. We run two direct access hostels near the city centre, providing accommodation, meals and support services, including job training. The YMCA caters for 120 men, women and children every day of the year and frequently receives referrals from social services, the Probation Service and other care agencies.

We are certainly not old-fashioned. In Llandrindod Wells, a grant from the National Lottery has resulted in a no-alcohol bar, fully equipped with information technology. There are four computers and ancillary equipment so that young people can browse the Internet for information on training, travel, jobs and leisure pursuits and can be linked with other young people "on the net". Some 35 young people use the facility four evenings every week.

A recent innovation which shows considerable signs of success is a YMCA partnership with the South Glamorgan Probation Service, originally funded for three years by the Welsh Office. The YMCA's participation is to provide an accommodation officer to develop a network of private landlords or landladies willing to offer accommodation to young people on probation. More than 100 vulnerable young people have been successfully re-integrated into the community by this means and, I am happy to say, the South Glamorgan Probation Service has now agreed to fund the continuation of the scheme from April next year.

In conclusion, I wish to express our gratitude to the Welsh Office for its help and support. I hope only that any new Welsh assembly will be fully conscious of its responsibility for young people in Wales and generous in its support of the voluntary sector.

4.48 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gwydir: My Lords, I do not claim to be up to date with the intricacies of Welsh affairs. Perhaps once upon a time I would have made that claim. It is now more than 27 years since I was appointed the first Conservative Secretary of State for Wales. My predecessors in that office were three great Welshmen. There was the redoubtable late Jim Griffiths; Cledwyn Hughes, now the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, who I was happy to see in his place; and George Thomas, who later became Viscount Tonypandy and who sadly died a short time ago.

I was in that office for four years. My Parliamentary Private Secretary was the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, who I am delighted to see sitting on the

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Opposition Front Bench of this House. Shortly after came several successors. One was my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, who for eight years held office with great distinction and success. I know that the House is grateful to him for having introduced this Motion and for the splendid speech which he made.

On the whole, the speeches have been on the economic and social side of this Motion. I intend to deal more with the good governance of Wales. I accept what my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, that we must now accept that the Government are going ahead with the assembly. Nevertheless, I find difficulty in accepting the value of that and I think it is quite right that one should express one's worry.

The Welsh Office, headed by a Secretary of State with a seat in the Cabinet, is now 33 years old. It is a tried and tested system of government which has served Wales well, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell pointed out. What is proposed by the Government of Wales Bill is not only a diminution of the standing of the Welsh Office and the service it provides to all parts of Wales, but also the obvious ultimate demise of the Secretary of State as a member of the Cabinet.

I do not intend to debate today the issues raised by the Welsh assembly Bill. The Second Reading debate over the past two days in the Commons indicates how very contentious its passage through Parliament will be. All I shall say now is that it proposes a major constitutional change and that no responsible government should endorse such a change unless satisfied that it is the wish of the majority of the people of Wales.

The Government appreciated that their overwhelming election result in Wales, with the assembly in their manifesto, was not a sufficient indication of such support. Therefore, they legislated for a referendum. As the House knows, that referendum took place on 18th September. Shortly before that, Scotland had voted on a similar referendum and the result in Scotland undoubtedly demonstrated the wish of the Scots for constitutional change. The Government have every right to proceed with a Bill for a Scottish parliament.

The referendum result in Wales, however, was starkly different: 75 per cent. of the electorate did not support a change. I remind the House of the details of that referendum. About one-quarter of the electorate voted yes; about one-quarter of the electorate voted no. The yes vote secured a derisory majority of 0.6 per cent. Eleven unitary authorities voted for the assembly; eleven unitary authorities voted against. The authorities which voted against included the important areas of Cardiff, Monmouthshire, Newport and Wrexham. There was an overwhelming no vote along the Borders with England.

No one can say that the referendum established a settled will of the Welsh people, and to claim that the result was a mandate for a proposed assembly is not only wrong but irresponsible. To force through an assembly which three out of four Welsh voters failed to endorse is not only undemocratic but, I repeat, irresponsible. The Government threw everything into their campaign for a yes vote. They ensured that there

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was inadequate debate. But their campaign lost steadily throughout the referendum. I am sure that the Government know that had there been a vote a week later, the result would almost certainly have been a no vote.

The morning after the referendum result, the Prime Minister admitted that the Welsh people had genuine concerns about the Government's proposal and he promised to address the fears that had been expressed. He appears to have broken that promise. The Government, with their large majority, are determined to force the Government of Wales Bill through Parliament. So be it. I forecast that in its passage through Parliament the imperfections of the Bill will be increasingly exposed and the concerns and fears of the Welsh people will be increasingly apparent. I predict that the Government may then be forced to do what happened in 1979 and have a post-legislative referendum. We shall then know what the people of Wales really think.

4.56 p.m.

Lord Geraint: My Lords, this is the first time that I have had an opportunity in this House to thank the Government. I am a proud Welshman and I am delighted that at last we are to have a Welsh assembly in Wales. Again I thank the Government for putting those proposals before us. I am delighted also that less than 25 per cent. of the people of Wales voted against the proposals at the referendum.

Before I turn to agriculture, I must declare my interest. As your Lordships will be aware, I am a worn out and tired farmer. However, I must blame the previous Conservative Government for their mishandling of the BSE crisis last year, which is the main cause of the disastrous decline in farmers' incomes. For the agriculture industry it was one of the greatest political blunders of all time.

The present Government are not very forthcoming either. What proposals do they have to help the industry in its current crisis? In my view, it is impossible for our farmers to compete on equal terms with their counterparts in Europe and I hope sincerely that the Government will see sense by taking immediate action to tackle the desperate situation.

First, I suggest that the Government should increase the price they pay per head of cattle under the cull scheme. Before BSE, a 10 hundredweight fat cow was worth approximately £520. Early this year the price dropped to £410. The present Government have seen fit to decrease the price further to a mere £310. Do the Government honestly believe that farmers can survive on such a paltry return?

In my view, leading supermarkets control the future destiny of Welsh agriculture. Many people may disagree with me, but, if I am right, I urge the Government to have more consultations with the chairmen of the leading supermarkets forthwith. Perhaps the Prime Minister inadvertently misinformed the other place last week when, in reply to the leader of my party, Paddy Ashdown, he said:

    "This year, with the over-30-months scheme and other measures, some £1.4 billion will be spent on providing support".

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In my view that £1.4 billion does not support Welsh or British farmers at all. That is the amount of money paid to farmers for compulsory slaughtering of cattle over 30 months. Therefore, it is in no way a support or any measure of help to the industry.

I turn now to a few more facts. I have with me comparative figures for stock prices at auction sales in Wales for the first week in December for the past three years. It is no wonder that the farmers are going to the ports and rallying support. In 1995, beef cattle sold at 116.38 pence per kilo. By 1996, the price had decreased to 106.34 pence per kilo. Worryingly, by the end of last week, the price had gone down to 91.39 pence per kilo.

I shall move on to the price of fat lambs. In 1995, they fetched a price of 120.34 pence per kilo. In 1996, it was 135.46 per kilo. By last week, prices were down to 93.65 pence per kilo. Moreover, calf prices are down approximately £100 per calf on last year. At the farm gate, the milk price was 25 pence per litre whereas it is 19 pence today. On the other hand, milk doorstep delivery in rural Wales is approximately 70 pence per litre. Perhaps I may advise the Minister to have a word with the chairman of Milk Marque, and other organisations, regarding the big difference between the purchasing and the selling price of milk. I honestly believe that the dairy farmer will be squeezed out of business unless the Government intervene soon.

I should like to ask the Minister a few questions, which I hope he will be able to answer at the end of the debate. First, what steps are the Government taking to support the dairy industry in the short term? Secondly, have the Government made an assessment of the impact of both the strength of sterling and of the green pound on farm incomes? If so, what are the conclusions? Thirdly, what plans do the Government have to restore confidence in the sheep industry and among hill farmers in particular? Fourthly, what progress has been made, if any, on lifting the European ban on the export of British beef? Further--and this is a most important question--why have farm incomes dropped by nearly 40 per cent. this year? Do the Government intend to compensate British farmers from the EC fund? If not, why not? I have been told that the Government of the day have until 15th January to apply for that money.

In my view, the Government must take steps to compensate farmers for the adverse effect of the green pound. Every other European government have understood that it is necessary to compensate for movements in currencies. Why must our Government stand out against it? Why go to war against the farming industry when it is well known that the whole economy of rural areas, especially in Wales, depends on its survival?

I turn away from agriculture for a moment. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the excellent work carried out by the Development Board for Rural Wales. It has achieved so much in terms of jobs and investment in mid-Wales. I congratulate the current chairman, David Rowe Beddoe, on his contribution. I am still not convinced that the work of the board should be taken over by the WDA, or any other organisation. I regret the fact that the Government

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of Wales Bill sets out to transfer its powers. Why the hurry? I believe that it should be the job of the Welsh parliament to consider the future of the Development Board for Rural Wales and to evaluate its work in the context of the new government structure in Wales.

I have been involved in local government at national and local level. When I entered politics as a county councillor in 1952, we considered the disastrous figures regarding the population of Cardiganshire at that time. According to the census, in 1901 there were 61,078 people living in Cardiganshire. By 1951, the population had decreased to 53,278. However, because of the excellent work of the development board, by 1991 the population had increased to 63,940. By 1996 it had increased to 69,545 and today it is over 70,000. That is indeed an achievement on the part of the Development Board for Rural Wales. I honestly believe that the Government should consider leaving the board as it is until we have our own Welsh parliament.

I have a few further matters to raise. When first elected, I remember calling for the restoration of the railway line between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. I do not believe that it is too far fetched to reconsider the feasibility of that route. I also urge that government encouragement should be given to the improvement of the rail routes between Machynlleth, Tywyn and Pwllheli as well as the mid-Wales lines. There are also the Dollgellau-Bala, and Wrexham routes, all of which are particularly valuable to the tourist trade.

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