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6.41 pm

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): I also pay tribute to the late Lord Cledwyn. He was a doughty fighter for devolution and, indeed, for Europe. During the 1975 referendum campaign, in Aberystwyth, I spoke on a platform with him when it was not popular in the Labour party to be so pro-European, but he was fearless in his beliefs and truly independent in many aspects. I admired

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that trait in him a great deal, as did many of my countrymen. It is a sad loss to politics as a whole that he has passed away.

This is possibly my last speech in the House, because I am retiring at the general election. I do not hear many expressions of regret about that. None the less, it is a great honour to be a Welshman who has served my constituents and my country in the House.

I had an upbringing in rural Wales. I was a widowed teacher's son and went to school at the age of three. She was a peripatetic teacher and taught in schools in three different places, so my early education was in Talybont, Talgarth and Hay-on-Wye in my constituency.

I learned to think for myself as a result of those early experiences and of living through the second world war. I was very interested and involved in farming and country pursuits. It is ironic to see farming at the height of a foot and mouth outbreak now. Naturally, I ended up in a career in agriculture, working for a multinational company. Later I was a farm manager, and a lecturer in agricultural economics.

I am glad that I had that career. Most Welshmen have to travel to find work. I travelled to the north of England, to Scotland--and, indeed, as far as Aberystwyth. I could not have done what I have done without the enthusiastic and dedicated support of my wife and family. All I know is that my career before I came to the House--in the world of big business, farming and education--prepared me well for the time that I have spent here. Even two years in the Army helped a lot. In particular, I thank all those who have helped me on the way--relations, friends, teachers, lecturers and party members--for their great kindness.

The Welsh day debate is the occasion to celebrate being Welsh, to have poetry in one's heart and, for a lot of us, the spirit of music within us--whether it comes out or not. We have politics running through our life experience, often from our confrontation with social realities: lack of work, a hard environment, poor health and poverty. Welsh society tends to be more equal than society in England, but we rightly rail against the inequalities.

I am pleased that proportional representation has arrived. The Ribble Valley ranter spoke for an hour and criticised PR; that is quite a wonder, considering that eight of the Conservative Members in the National Assembly are there only because of PR. At least the Liberal Democrats had three Members elected by first past the post; the Conservatives had only one.

My liberalism stems from within my family. It stems from non-conformism, independence and awareness of the importance of co-operation, wealth creation and social justice. It is not socialism, but it is egalitarian. It empowers communities as well as individuals. Modern liberal democracy does not fear state intervention, and stands clearly to the left of new Labour.

My conversion to liberalism was secured in my teens by Clement Davies and a young Glyn Tegai Hughes, who preached home rule for Wales, economic and democratic government for Europe and successful world government through the creation of the United Nations. Most of those aims have been achieved in my lifetime. That is a long way from yesterday's description by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) of a foreign country. Fifty years ago, we were talking of much more progressive things.

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Home rule for Wales was compatible with a European Union. State intervention and taxation were more than acceptable if they produced a world that brought about the greater good of society and the individuals in it. Hence Liberals such as Beveridge worked hard for the establishment of the national health service, to which we all enthusiastically subscribed.

Beveridge found the money to finance that; Nye Bevan brought in the Act. Liberals and Liberal Democrats in Wales have always worked at the leading edge of progressive politics. In recent times, we have not always had the credit for our radical, constructive approach, but I expect that, ultimately, our support for the National Assembly and our decisive move to enter partnership politics to provide stable government in the Assembly will stand Liberal Democrats in good stead. We remain independent, but choose co-operation.

Wales needs stability. Liberal Democrats give it that dimension. We believe that education and training empower individuals, that a good health service epitomises a caring Wales, and that no worthwhile society in Wales can be created without quality jobs, mainly created through home-grown entrepreneurs--backed in future, I hope, by our own banks.

The Westminster Parliament must soon give Wales primary legislative powers like those in Scotland, so that it can become a master in its own house. We must reform the Barnett formula and base it on the needs of Wales. Tax-varying powers must accompany those reforms. Such measures will release the energy of a new and confident Welsh people in a Welsh Parliament.

My constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire is the largest, most beautiful and most rural in Wales. It has been a huge privilege to represent it. The loyalty of my constituents and their willingness to elect me as their representative here is something for which I will be eternally grateful.

My supporters have worked tirelessly for the Liberal Democrat cause. The victory that we achieved together in the great 1985 by-election was one of the highlights of my life. We demolished the second highest Conservative majority in Wales. As a result, the Conservative party chairman was sacked. I was elected at the age of 50 as the 50th Liberal Member of Parliament since the second world war.

My political career has been a roller-coaster, and I do not mind admitting it. In seven elections, I have had two lost deposits, a third place, a second place, three wins and eight recounts. That is not bad for a son of Talgarth. All that was thoroughly enjoyable. If people do not enjoy politics, they should not be in it.

I have had a very good relationship with my constituents. During our time together we have saved factories, opened new ones, seen others close and seen some work go to eastern Europe. On the plus side, thanks in some measure to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), we have fought a tremendous battle and won the argument to save our six community hospitals. We saved our NHS trust, too. That has ensured that a real grass-roots NHS for patients can be delivered efficiently and effectively in one of the remotest parts of Britain.

The Liberal Democrats will play an increasingly important role in directing the fortunes of Britain in the 21st century. I certainly expect us to be involved, in one way or another, in the government of our country.

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Liberal Democrats have an enduring philosophy that can meet the challenge of the vast changes that will occur in British society in this century. I believe that in Wales the Assembly will have not only far greater powers but a new self-confidence emerging from the people of Wales, who will have a very significant impact on their own well-being and make a constructive contribution to a federal Britain with a positive role within the European Union.

The crisis in farming is one matter that has undoubtedly grieved me in recent years. I was brought up on a 90-acre farm, albeit only as the tenant in part of the farmhouse. Welsh family farms are the backbone of our rural society. Both Conservative and Labour Governments have presided over the demise of the family farm to the point that, certainly in my constituency, youngsters no longer want to farm. That situation has been created by the supermarkets' overbearing power in the marketplace. They have borne down on farm commodity prices until they have been able to pay prices that are lower than production costs. That should be illegal in the United Kingdom, as it is in the United States. The sooner the House legislates, the better it will be.

Another aspect is undoubtedly the Government's timidity in refusing to join the euro. Welsh farming families have lost many millions of pounds because of the failure to join the eurozone on 1 January 1999. We must join as soon as possible. Joining the euro is one of the few actions available to us to ensure fair prices for our farm products and, therefore, a return to profitability.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: I am sorry that I have to intervene in the hon. Gentleman's resignation speech. However, although it is true that both Labour and Tory Governments have presided over the decline of family farms, that is no more than a statement of the facts. There has not been a Liberal Government in almost a century. The hon. Gentleman has described the problem--which exists in all the other western European countries--but what do Liberal Democrat Members have in mind to solve it? What positive comments does he have to make?

Mr. Livsey: I thank the hon. Gentleman for asking that question. Welsh family farms cannot make a profit because of rock-bottom farm commodity prices. In prices, they have lost out by a margin of 40 per cent. because we are not in the eurozone. The situation is the same in the steel industry and in other industries. Were we in the eurozone, our Welsh family farms would be making a profit. That is why farms in Europe that are only half the size of farms in Wales can make a profit, but those farms in Wales cannot make a profit.


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