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Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Does my right hon. Friend realise that fewer than a dozen Conservative Back Benchers are present to hear his statement? They have escaped an afternoon of humiliation here by going to their constituents to apologise for being wrong for the past 22 years. Members of the shadow Cabinet are reversing all the policies that do not match the Government's, while others, such as the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), are busy working out which party to support in the general election.
Does my right hon. Friend agree--I am sure that he will--that the announcement is a great triumph for the Labour Government? It means that 3,000 of my constituents, who faced the daily insult of dirt pay for many years, will earn wages that will lift them out of the dependency culture and give them a reasonable reward for their labours.
Mr. Byers: There is no doubt that the national minimum wage has taken people out of poverty pay and that it rewards them for their endeavours. The significant increase that we have been able to announce today will make a real difference, not only to my hon. Friend's constituency but to the 1.5 million people and their families who rely on the national minimum wage. Today's announcement constitutes a genuine benefit for them; they know that it was introduced by a Labour Government and
Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North): Many small employers in my constituency will welcome today's announcement because, for many years, they were seriously undercut by employers who offered £1 and £2 an hour.
My hon. Friend made the important point that many small businesses encouraged the Government to introduce the national minimum wage because they were worried about the way in which other small businesses exploited their position and paid very low wages.
The Government have set up an enforcement line and many calls have come from employers, not employees, who have told the Inland Revenue and my Department about other employers who pay wages that are below the national minimum level. That demonstrates that business accepts the national minimum wage as an important provision. Indeed, it is widely accepted and welcomed, not only by those who receive the benefit of it but by decent, fair-minded people who know that a national minimum wage is about decency. At the beginning of the 21st century, the least that we can expect of a Government is the introduction of such a provision. We have done that, and we are proud of it.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall the anxiety that was expressed by hon. Members of all parties last week about the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and especially hon. Members' wish to obtain as much information as possible from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and other Departments. It is natural at such a time that our constituents may want to apply to us for information that they are experiencing difficulty in obtaining, or for clarification of that information. To be fair, the Minister of Agriculture responded to those anxieties by saying that he would establish information machinery for hon. Members.
I received two difficult constituency representations and rang the Minister's private office. I refer to you and your judgment on that matter, Mr. Speaker, because, to my surprise, the private office referred me to the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly), the Parliamentary Private Secretary, and her private office. I believe that that is unprecedented. I make no complaint about the courtesy with which my inquiry was handled, and I am sure that the person who spoke to me wanted to be as helpful as possible, but, given the seriousness of the matter, it is somewhat cock-eyed and inappropriate to handle it in that way.
Would it not be better for those who listen to these issues to take the matter back to the Ministry and set up proper machinery at an official level, so that hon. Members on both sides of the House can refer their cause to the Ministry and get the matter officially clarified?
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I did not know that my hon. Friend was going to raise the issue, but I would like to concur with what he said. A way must be found for Members of Parliament to put cases directly to Ministers. I rang the Minister's private office not long ago, and was also directed to the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ms Kelly).
A farmer in my constituency has calving heifers on land about two miles away from his farm. He is unable to get to those animals and to be with them while they are calving. The Minister must come to the House and make a statement, so that hon. Members have the opportunity to raise such concerns as these.
Mr. Speaker: The points of order raised by both hon. Members are matters for the Minister. I listened carefully to what the Minister had to say, and I got the feeling that he wanted to give as much information to the House as possible. I am sure that the concerns expressed by both hon. Members will be noted by the Minister and taken on board.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I shall not let this opportunity pass without paying tribute to a great Welshman who, sadly, was buried a week ago. Cledwyn Hughes was a great Welshman because of his passion for Wales: in that, few were his equal and none his master. His passion for devolution was deep, but he was also proud to be British and I know that, were he here, he would argue strongly for the continued partnership between London and Cardiff in the post-devolution world.
Cledwyn Hughes was also a great Welshman because he was a true internationalist. He stood opposed to fascism in the 1930s because he knew that events on the continent of Europe were not about far-away lands of which we knew little, but had a direct bearing on all of us on these islands, too. He was a man who had the vision to see the importance of Europe for Britain's future. At the Welsh Labour party conference last week, Neil Kinnock lamented Cledwyn's passing and expressed his regret that he had never been made Foreign Secretary. I, too, feel that history would have been very different--and that that difference would have been to the benefit of all of Britain--had that appointment been made.
The past few days have been trying times for many people in Wales. I know that the House will want to express its sympathy and understanding for the many involved in farming in Wales who face desperate worry and uncertainty as a result of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Those involved expect the Government, Parliament and the Assembly to act, and act collectively we have. We have acted speedily to do what we can to restrict the spread of this infection. We have acted to give local authorities the powers that they need to restrict public access to footpaths and bridleways. Again, I urge the public to stay off those paths, and warn anyone who breaks the law that they will face the prospect of heavy fines.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for making the point about staying off footpaths. I am a keen walker, and was walking in Talyllyn in the constituency of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) only two weeks ago. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is important to emphasise that people should not only stay off the footpaths that are clearly marked, but refrain from crossing fields and other areas that may not be clearly marked as out of bounds?
We have started to allow the movement of healthy animals for slaughter and subsequent sale. The House will know that we must proceed with caution, so movements have been relatively limited thus far, and that we have acted to secure agrimonetary compensation for farmers. We have done so through a strong partnership between Westminster, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. All the Ministers involved--my right hon. Friend the Minister of
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): The Secretary of State rightly refers to compensation and the European funding that is being accessed to help farmers. He will be very much aware that others directly associated with the agriculture industry such as slaughterhouses, hauliers and others will equally be hit and may be put out of business. Indeed, the tourist areas of Wales are being hit especially hard and bookings over Easter might be undermined by these developments. Is there any help at all that the Government foresee being available to those who are indirectly affected by this tragedy?