Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Jones: Family farms in France and Germany are also in decline. If it is simply a matter of the euro, why have family farms in central France almost disappeared?

Mr. Livsey: Modulation is an extremely important concept, as those resources should be concentrated on family units. We all know the statistics. The large farms receive 80 per cent. of the subsidies, whereas the small farms, which account for far more than half the farming population, receive only 20 per cent. That is the problem.

5 Mar 2001 : Column 76

Wales is a country of family livestock farms, which are currently being hit very badly by foot and mouth disease. Foot and mouth disease is a tragedy that must be overcome. In 1967, I left Wales for eight or nine years and worked in Northumberland, where there was a horrendous outbreak of foot and mouth disease. It took six months to conquer that outbreak, and some farming families could not leave their farms for three months. When the dust from this outbreak has settled, we must support family farms and help them to diversify their products for the benefit of Wales's rural communities. Suckler cow premiums, beef special premiums and sheep annual premiums must be paid early to sustain cash flows.

In Wales's urban areas, the closure of our coal mines and the destruction of jobs in the steel industry have destroyed many valley communities. I regard that as an extremely serious matter. In the 19th century, my own family worked in Cyfarthfa ironworks, but everyone was put out of work. My grandfather went down the colliery when he was 14. I understand the problems of the valleys. It is very important for the future of Wales that we understand each other's problems and tackle them in a unified manner.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has the right to talk about valley communities being destroyed. The valley communities that I represent are vibrant and have tremendous community spirit, and the people who live in them are certainly not destroyed. He comes from a rural area, and he should not talk down our valley communities. The Government have poured resources into those communities. Unemployment is coming down, and our communities are on the way up. I wish that people like him would not talk down Wales and valley communities.

Mr. Livsey: The hon. Gentleman has totally misrepresented what I said. My mother came from Troed-y-rhiw, and he should know better. What is needed in the valleys is better quality work, higher wages and a much better local economy. The spirit there is fantastic. The people of the valleys have been oppressed for a long time and they have had to fight. I know that from within my own family. We need to unite and work for a better economy for Wales, to resurrect it as something that is really worth while. A further crash programme of job creation is vital to bringing wealth to those deprived communities. They undoubtedly already have plenty of wealth in terms of community strength.

I have had two stints as leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. The most recent one, from 1997 to 2001, has certainly been the most enjoyable and eventful. Winning the Welsh Assembly referendum was certainly the highlight and the realisation of many of the aims of my career. The elation of that victory and of what it meant for my beloved Wales will remain with me for ever. I hope that it will also inspire a new generation of young Welsh politicians.

Our new Assembly is an imperfect thing, but it will grow with our nation. Ultimately, we still have the innate talent in Wales--including the talent for robust political argument--to make more of ourselves. We must raise our eyes from the negativity that sometimes abounds in our debates. In Wales, we need vision and unity of purpose to create a better and more successful nation and society. That is the challenge of the 21st century. I am pleased to

5 Mar 2001 : Column 77

have been able to play a very small part in laying a few secure foundations for the future that my country desperately needs.

6.58 pm

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli): The annual debate on Welsh affairs has always provided an opportunity for what are often euphemistically described as wide-ranging speeches. Today's debate has already lived up to the great traditions of the past. I hope that my wide-ranging speech will be fairly short.

We have had various debates on Welsh affairs recently. We have had debates on the economy in the Welsh Grand Committee, debates on social deprivation on the Floor of the House, and other debates on law and order and on building better, stronger and safer communities. I think that most of us, if we consider the Welsh economy objectively, can understand the Welsh economy's strong points, its weaknesses, the improvements that have been made and the improvements that are needed.

The Welsh economy's strong points have already been mentioned in today's debate. Unemployment, for example, has decreased considerably. Indeed, it has decreased by more than most us would have thought possible when the Government were elected at the last general election. Inflation is low, as is the cost of borrowing money. Since my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made his announcements in the autumn, there has been a substantial increase in the sums being devoted to public services. It will take some time before the money filters through to health and education services, but that is happening and it will happen increasingly during the next few years. The minimum wage has been a great success, as we saw today in the welcome proposal to increase it by 10 per cent. Thus there have been strong points, but there is no use in denying that the Welsh economy has weak points; we all know what they are.

Incomes or gross domestic product per head are still low, although some parts of Wales now have fairly high incomes and GDP per head. Perhaps one of our future problems will be the gap between areas such as Cardiff, Newport, the south-east and parts of the north-east and other parts of Wales, but generally incomes and GDP per head are still too low and we need to try to do something to raise them. Obviously, that is not easy; it will take time.

As the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) said, farming is under tremendous pressure. It has suffered one blow after another. I entirely agree with him that the small family farm is often the backbone of rural communities, especially the Welsh-speaking communities, and we should preserve them if we can. However, his prescription was not as constructive or good as his analysis. France was mentioned in an intervention during his speech. Hardly a family farm is left in the Creuse in central France and most of them are occupied by weekend visitors from Paris. That is a real problem around the world, given the pressures on commodity prices.

Mr. Ruane: I have recently been looking at the statistics for French farms, which show a decrease from 1.5 million to 800,000. The number of farms has almost halved in France.

Mr. Davies: My hon. Friend is right. Perhaps I should be careful, given the intervention that my hon. Friend the

5 Mar 2001 : Column 78

Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) made in the speech of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, but I should like to mention the tremendous pressure that has been placed on our traditional industries, on our manufacturing industry and on the communities that were bound up with them. No other small country in the industrialised western world has had to bear the disruption and degeneration in its economic structure that Wales has borne from the late 1960s onwards.

Mr. Rogers: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Davies: My hon. Friend obviously wants to get his retaliation in first.

Mr. Rogers: The point that I was trying to make--I thought that I had done so--was that, although our industries were destroyed, our communities have not been. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) should read his speech tomorrow; he talked about valley communities being destroyed. The industry was destroyed, but the valley communities have not been.

Mr. Davies: I agree with my hon. Friend and hope that I can develop that theme. I suppose that, given the high dependence, first, on iron and coal and then on coal and steel, it was perhaps inevitable that the high preponderance of basic industries would not survive, as tariff barriers came down in the aftermath of the second world war and as trade opened up in the late 1960s. Sadly, not only did our communities have to try to adjust to that perhaps natural decline, but we had a tremendous pressure on prices and costs because of the global economy--to use a shorthand term--from the mid-1980s onwards. We never had a chance fully to recover from one economic blow after another, as we have seen, yet again, with the steel industry.

When politicians are faced with those economic hurricanes, we rightly tend to believe that one way to deal with the problem is to ask the Government for more money, whether in grants, public expenditure or objective 1 funding. Some people want the Barnett formula to be changed; others want there to be tax holidays or havens, or whatever, but we all ask, quite rightly, for Government money. Government money can solve many problems, and it is forthcoming, but we should recognise that economic changes and upheavals, such as those we have seen in Wales, have an effect on the cultural, social and, indeed, moral fabric of the communities that have suffered from them.

If we are to attract good economic investment, which we need to do to raise the GDP per head, we must realise that money is not sufficient in itself. We must try to rekindle confidence by fostering a culture of excellence and achievement--perhaps, rekindling some basic moral values--for which those communities were rightly proud and in which they showed great success when they had the economic growth that was lost.

I shall digress a little from this perhaps rather rambling speech and tell the House that, some time ago, a successful national eisteddfod was held in Llanelli. Aficionados of such events will know that a publication, which is quite cheap and written in Welsh, containing all the entries--the poetry, prose, literature, drama and, indeed, the film scripts, which are now part of the

5 Mar 2001 : Column 79

competitions--and the adjudications on them is issued at the end of the eisteddfod. I have just finished reading the publication of the Llanelli eisteddfod. Frankly, it heartened me to read it, because there is still a culture of excellence, merit and achievement.

The publication is a great tribute to the adjudicators, who carefully consider all the entries and discuss their syntax, grammar and the imagination and language used--presumably, for little reward, because they enjoy doing so. It is also a tribute to those who have entered the competition, because they subject themselves to criticism. Perhaps this is no longer a society in which we want to subject ourselves to criticism, but they do so, and they are often sharply criticised. Of course, that is not an exercise in which "everyone's a winner, baby."

Certificates are not just handed out to everyone. In that perhaps minority area of cultural excellence, prizes are not awarded very often. People are criticised, but they are not given certificates. Perhaps we can learn something from the culture of excellence, attainment and rigour that can be seen in those adjudications and the national eisteddfod's publications. I am sure that that applies in other areas, not just to those Welsh circles.

Let us consider culture and excellence in Wales. Some social commentators maintain that a good way to assess the quality of a country's cultural attainments is to compare the quality of its broadsheet newspapers. Perhaps it is not a very good test, but some sociologists tell us that if a country can produce and sustain one or two well-written, well-analysed broadsheet newspapers, it says something about its sophistication and cultural achievements.

I have always wanted to be an adjudicator, and I shall now give my national eisteddfod-like adjudication. My French is not too good--being a Eurosceptic, perhaps I should not dare admit to knowing any French--so I shall confine myself to the countries of Britain and Ireland. The winner must be Ireland. Of course, such a test might be rather silly--I am not sure who is in the Gallery--but the winner is the Irish Times. By a short head, it is just in front of two or three of the London broadsheets that I assign to England even though they circulate throughout Britain.

I have given my first and second prizes and I would give my third prize to the Scots, who share it between The Scotsman and The Herald. In this eisteddfod, there is no fourth prize, so I am afraid that Wales does not get one. However, if there were a fourth prize, I would not tell the House to whom I would give it.

Next Section

IndexHome Page