Budget Statement and its Implications for Wales

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Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West) (Translation): Thank you, Mr. Jones, for your work as Chair of the Committee during this Parliament. As I may not have another chance to do so before the general election, whenever it will be, I thank you for being such a support and inspiration to several hon. Members, especially those who entered the House in 1997. You are an excellent ambassador for your area, and especially Flintshire.

I know that time is against me, but I welcome the Budget. I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for speaking so eloquently and with such feeling about the social history of this area. One point that came through clearly was that the economy and society of these industrial valleys have had to embrace change. There is a lesson there. We are living in a world that is changing at a fast pace, and not just in our industrial communities. Those of us who live in and love our rural communities must accept the need for change there. Insufficient work has been done in that regard, especially in agriculture. People accept that agriculture is in crisis, and that the Government are dealing with foot and mouth in a practical way, but a long-term strategy for agriculture is needed. I know that the Government are giving priority to that.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central. His point about paying off the national debt in order to invest in youngsters today was original; I had not heard it made in such an effective way before. The main principle of this Government is to create social justice and a fairer society, and that is a strong principle. We should embrace and create a strong economy and control interest rates, which are low now due to the Government's economic success. We now have a much stronger economy than the one that we inherited from the Tories.

I emphasise the significance of the new deal. In my constituency, it has been of great benefit to hundreds of young people. The Government have made strong inroads into unemployment by moving people from dependency on benefit into work. That is a strong point of the Government's policies, which are on the right track, but we must also create jobs that make it pay to work. The Government can be proud of having introduced the minimum wage.

My constituency is highly dependent on tourism, in which pay has traditionally tended to be low. There is a problem with implementing the minimum wage policy that I hope that my right hon. Friend will note. I met a woman in Colwyn Bay who was working in a pub who told me that she was not getting the minimum wage. That was a disappointment and concern to me. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that enough is being done to police the minimum wage?

I understand that time is of the essence. I am happy that emphasis has been placed on measures that will renew and regenerate our community. Tax rebates and tax credits could be of benefit to areas such as Abergele and Colwyn Bay. The Government have achieved a great deal and more will be done if they are re-elected. If we can spread the word about their wonderful record, we can be confident that that will happen.

3.16 pm

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Translation): I have bittersweet memories of this place, where three of us spent time in the 1970s and 1980s. I want to consider changes in education in the context of the Budget. Welsh lessons are held in this building, so Welsh education is another matter that comes to mind. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth referred to Caerleon school. I was there on Friday and a group of teachers are teaching children Welsh enthusiastically; for the first time, in my opinion. In the early 1970s, brave parents fought a long battle for their children to receive education in Welsh. We can now celebrate their success with the opening of a new school in the shadow of the Severn bridge, which I believe will be called ``Ysgol y Ffin''—the border school. If money comes from the Budget to the Assembly, it is important to ensure that the present generation of Gwent children regain their inheritance, which has been denied them for decades.

I want to refer to the Budget's effect on people in the third world who face suffering each day of their lives. It is possible for the Chancellor to give £1 billion from the Budget to get rid of third world debt. Our Government's success means that we can repay debt. Next year, more debt will be paid back than has repaid during the past 50 years.

[Continued in English] People's jobs will collapse soon. A new atmosphere descended last weekend; hope is disappearing fast. I want to make a strong point to my friends in government. I read this morning that consequential compensation will be paid. Paradise has arrived. We are in the days of socialism when individuals or businesses that lose money are compensated by the Government. Is that happening? I welcome it. However, I want to put in a bid. I shall not talk for long about farmers, but one of the perverse things that could happen is that my steelworkers on modest incomes will lose their livelihood, may never work again and will receive redundancy pay that could be as little as a fifth of what is on offer in other countries in the European Community. At the same time, Sir Brian Moffat, who is a farmer, may receive compensation for losses that he may have suffered in the present crisis. Those are the two extremes of what is happening.

[Continued in Welsh] I wish to refer to people on small farms who speak Welsh. After the job losses in anthracite-producing areas, we must battle for the little farms in Wales.

[Continued in English] Eighty per cent. of the subsidies go to 20 per cent. of the farmers, some of whom are the richest and are running businesses worth many millions of pounds. There must be compensation, but it should be given on the basis of justice and not to save every business in the rural areas. Rural areas have a rich future, but great change will be required.

Tourism is not confined to rural areas; it is an industry also in urban areas. Tourism suffers ups and downs, feast and famine, as a result of weather changes and so on. If there is to be consequential compensation to one industry, it should not be provided for rural areas only. If we are now saying that compensation is for everyone who experiences losses that are not their fault, people in the steel industry should be eligible. What has happened to them is not their fault and, over the years, they have sacrificed, reskilled and done everything that they possibly can; as you know, Mr. Jones, from your experience. For internal, selfish reasons, the company has kicked them in the teeth.

The only way to tackle such behaviour is for unions to work multinationally against multinational companies. The Government should be working with the Dutch and German Governments to ensure at least an equality of standards within the steel industry. What is happening at Llanwern and Ebbw Vale is not happening in Holland or Germany, although our standards of productivity are higher than theirs. If there are to be handouts, they should not go to one industry or group of industries, or to an industry in one area only. They should be given to everyone.

For years, I have represented people in urban areas. We know that the money goes to the squeaking wheel; perhaps we have not squeaked enough. Perhaps we should have demonstrated, protested and blocked the Severn bridge. If multi-millionaires who have vast businesses are to be compensated because they are threatened with bankruptcy—even though such threats are idle—our steelworkers should be compensated as well.

The Chairman: Order. Three hon. Members are trying to catch my eye. The winding-up speeches will begin at 3.30 pm.

3.23 pm

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): I will keep my comments brief.

I welcome the money for extra public spending in Wales, particularly for education. We have heard banter about facts, figures and GDP. I wish to compare my experiences since becoming a Member of Parliament in 1997 with what happened during the previous 18 years, when I was a county councillor, a governor for two county schools and a parent in Pembrokeshire with three children. I care about children because they are our future.

There were occasions during those 18 years when I was almost in despair. I was a member of the parent-teacher association when my daughter and son were in junior school in Pembroke. We raised money for the school because of our concerns about the Conservative Government's cuts in education spending; only as a result of that fundraising was the school able to afford a new copy of the maths scheme for its pupils. I had to buy my daughter's literature book when she was studying for her GCSEs, because there were only four copies of that book for about 30 children. When I was a councillor, a ceiling in Neyland primary school fell down because of lack of maintenance. When I was a school governor in Pembroke dock, a school with 410 pupils had cardboard walls and difficulties with maintenance and heating.

On Friday, I visited the construction site of a new school in St. Davids. It is being built in partnership with the church in Wales. I used to be a governor in Pembroke dock, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire (Mr. Ainger). Again, there is a new school for that community.

Fishguard school in my constituency is gaining a new technology block and £750,000 worth of investment. Tasker Milward school in Haverfordwest has had a new sports hall and a new 10-classroom extension. Such things do not come about out of the blue. They come about because of a stable economy and investment by Government in public services. It is important because the children are our future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central spoke about the repayment of debt, about which some hon. Members complained this afternoon. It is only as a result of the repayment of debt that we have this money for spending on public services. For every £1 of extra public spending in 1997, 42p went on repayment of debt. That is now down to 16p. That is where the money is coming from for our children and their future. That must be good for Wales.

3.26 pm

 
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Prepared 12 March 2001