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8.54 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): I was intrigued to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), because as he spoke I realised that we had something in common. Like him, my sister used to live in Basildon, and I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) has just walked in.

In rising to make my first contribution in the House, I am keenly aware that I am only the fourth individual since the second world war to have had the privilege to do so as the hon. Member for Cardiff, West. The first of those four rose to national prominence as Secretary of State for Wales and then as the occupant of your Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when he became the first Speaker in history to be broadcast. Although it was at first in sound only, his distinctive Welsh voice became for a while the vocal emblem of the House. He was, of course the late George Thomas, subsequently Viscount Tonypandy.

There then followed a brief historical blip in the history of Cardiff, West when the voters returned a Conservative Member, Stefan Terlezki, between 1983 and 1987, in an election that, given the current state of the main Opposition party, seems a long time ago.

My immediate predecessor, however, was Rhodri Morgan, who served on the Front Bench for much of Labour's period in opposition, notably as shadow Minister for Welsh Affairs during the development of Labour's devolution policy. He also holds the distinction of helping to make the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill the most debated measure in the House's 800-year history, eclipsing even the debates on the corn laws. That included one contribution that lasted two hours 40 minutes. Hon. Members can rest easy in the knowledge that that is one thing that I do not intend to match in following him in the House.

After the 1997 general election, Rhodri Morgan served the House as Chairman of the Select Committee on Public Administration, where he enhanced his reputation as a man of principle and courage in pursuit of the truth. Hon. Members may not be aware of the Welsh saying, tri chynnig i Gymro--three tries for a Welshman. That does not refer to Scott Quinnell's efforts for the Lions rugby team in one of the recent tour matches in Australia, but it certainly was true in relation to my predecessor's campaign to become Labour's First Secretary in the National Assembly for Wales, a position that he holds today with distinction.

Rhodri Morgan was known in this House for his verbal dexterity, Welsh wit and skilful debating talents, and is credited as one of the few politicians to have ever left Jeremy Paxman lost for words when he was asked on "Newsnight" if he would stand for the leadership of the Labour party in the Welsh Assembly and he replied


Rhodri Morgan will be an extremely difficult act to follow, not least because he is so relentlessly tall, an unusual trait in a Welshman and one that I am sure hon. Members will have observed that I do not share. At well over 6 ft, with added inches for his trademark hair, he represents a towering political figure in the most literal sense, and the Welsh Assembly's gain is this House's loss.

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My constituency of Cardiff, West is the area of our Welsh capital city bounded roughly by the River Taff to the east, the London to Swansea main railway line to the south, the Cardiff bay link road to the west and the M4 to the north.

It could be tempting to follow the precedent of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) who, in his maiden speech at the beginning of the previous Parliament, described how many points of interest lay just outside his constituency, since from within my constituency there are magnificent views of the new Millennium stadium located just the wrong side of the river Taff in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), and there are fine views of Castell Coch, the beautiful fairytale castle creation of William Burgess situated just the other side of the M4 in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan). In addition, there are views to the new developments in Cardiff bay, south of the railway line in the constituency of the Minister for Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael).

Fortunately, I do not have to follow that precedent. Cardiff, West contains its own jewels, including three sports stadiums--Sophia gardens, which I am told you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be certain to know is the home of Glamorgan county cricket club--Leckwith athletic stadium and Ninian park, the home of the sleeping giants of British football, Cardiff City. Sadly, they have been sleeping giants since 1927--talk of the dead--when they won the FA cup. These days, Cardiff holds the FA cup once again, but only in the sense of having the final in the Millennium stadium.

There is also Llandaff cathedral, the ancient seat of Christianity in south Wales, the Chapter arts centre, one of Britain's foremost centres for the contemporary arts, and St. Fagans museum of Welsh life, Wales's top tourist attraction. The museum was recently boosted further by the very wise concession on VAT made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The concession has enabled the Labour-led National Assembly for Wales to introduce free admission at all Wales's national museums.

We are proudly cosmopolitan in Cardiff, West, just as Cardiff itself has long been a cosmopolitan city, built on its role as the world's largest coal-exporting port at the end of the 19th century. Thus, many languages can be heard in Cardiff, West, including Welsh, Urdu, Bengali, Gujerati, Somali and even the language that is usually spelt "Kairdiff"--the distinctive local dialect of Cardiffians, which some say has Irish inflections mixed with the musicality of the Welsh.

The Queen's Speech follows a remarkable election for the United Kingdom and also for Wales. I referred to the Lions rugby team in Australia. It is noticeable how readily the rugby fans of Wales have ardently shown their support for the Lions, despite the domination of the squad by players from England whose team is temporarily stronger than the Welsh one. That is the spirit in which Welsh voters, while intensely proud of their Welshness, rejected the narrow confines of Welsh nationalism at the ballot box. It is also the spirit in which I and, I am sure, the seven other new post-devolutionary Welsh Labour Members will operate in the House.

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In overwhelmingly supporting the Labour party, the return of a Labour Government and the manifesto reflected in the Queen's Speech, Welsh voters also rejected the main opposition party. Prior to 1997, the Conservatives had returned Members for Welsh seats at every election since 1906. Now, for the second election in a row, there is not a single Conservative Member in the House who represents a Welsh constituency. The roots of that continuous, contiguous Conservative-Cymric cull lie in the contempt with which Wales was treated by the Conservative party when it was in power. Its current leader, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), was the last in a long line of Conservative Secretaries of State for Wales who did not represent Welsh seats. In my view, he was probably the best received of the bunch, because at least he learned the words of the Welsh national anthem, unlike the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who spoke earlier.

In the Queen's Speech, the Labour Government have set out their first steps for a second term. Time and again during the recent election campaign, I came across people who want to see this Government succeed. They want them to succeed in restoring quality public services--in Wales, that will be done in partnership with the Welsh Assembly--and they want them to succeed in helping pensioners, in the fight against crime and in providing investment and hope in estates such as Ely, in my constituency. They want the Government to succeed in their mission to promote social justice and prosperity as two parts of the same goal, and to restore together with the Assembly the national health service, which was created out of the instinctive pragmatic socialism of the people of south Wales. That is why I welcome the specific promise in the Queen's Speech of a draft Welsh Bill on health.

The voters whom I met want us to govern on the strong values of Labour: fair play, or chwarae teg, as we say in Wales; looking after one's neighbour; giving a fair chance in life to everyone; making sure that crime does not pay, but that work does pay for those who can work; and helping those who cannot help themselves. Those are the themes that the Government have outlined in the Queen's Speech.

I am the product of a mixed marriage between an Irishman from the green fields of west Cork and a miner's daughter from Nantyglo in the Gwent valleys. My father is a man of many sayings, two of which have come into mind since I entered the House. The first relates to the many opportunities for liquid relaxation that appear to be available to hon. Members in this place. My father always says in his Irish brogue, "Two is plenty; four is only half enough." I commend that advice to hon. Members. The second saying relates to the values that I hope to follow and that I am sure Labour will follow in setting out its vision for Britain in the next five years. My father's credo is this:


I shall endeavour to follow the advice that I first heard in my father's house during my time of service in this House.

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9.4 pm


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