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8.18 pm

Mr. Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) on making his maiden speech, and all those who have made their maiden speeches this evening. We have shared the trepidation of sitting here, waiting to do them. I have gained some insight into the Isle of Wight: I knew nothing about its garlic fields. However, I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) intends to take his holiday on the island, so perhaps, as one islander to another, he will be able to help with some of the transport difficulties that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight described.

I am pleased to be called to make my maiden speech during a debate that deals with social housing, on a Bill that will introduce measures to strengthen local democracy, require agencies and stakeholders to work together and reinforce the recognition of the link between housing, health and social exclusion. In Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, about 8,300 households are in council housing, 1,400 in registered social landlord accommodation and 20,000 in private housing. The condition of housing is often worse in Wales than in any other part of the United Kingdom, so housing is one of the most important issues facing our communities as we struggle with the problems of deprivation left to us by years of underfunding and neglect. More recently, we still struggle with the effects of nearly two decades of the near economic war that was waged on our communities. That is something that we do not forget and will not forgive.

We do not need lessons or crocodile tears from across the Floor about these social issues. However, we are determined to move on and to move our communities on. It is in that spirit of change that I see my election as the first Labour Member of Labour's second century in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.

In taking up that mantle, I am humbled by and pleased to pay tribute to my predecessors. I do so not only to Ted Rowlands, whom I have recently succeeded, but to Keir Hardie, the first Labour Member to be elected in what was then the constituency of Merthyr and Aberdare, and the first leader of the Labour party. I pay tribute also to S. O. Davies and the other Labour leaders from Wales, on whose shoulders I hope to stand and in whose tradition I hope to follow.

Like Keir Hardie, I am a socialist and a trade unionist—a trade union official. I recognise the power of the links between organised labour and the party that we have

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helped to form. These are links that some would pervert, some would like to destroy and some to usurp. Keir Hardie stood for a minimum wage, the enfranchisement of women, minorities and oppressed people, reform of the House of Lords and devolved government. He was an internationalist. He was a man with a faith in and a concern for a civilised and humane society. After 100 years we have just begun to realise some of these aspirations. We still have a long way to go, and I am pleased to continue my part in that work.

In preparing my maiden speech, I was fortunate enough to discuss some of the shared history that I have with Mr. Speaker. I knew that Keir Hardie had two half-brothers. I did not know that both of them later became Labour Members. David Hardie became the Member for Rutherglen; and George, or Georgie, Hardie became the Member to represent Mr. Speaker's constituency of Springburn in Glasgow, later to be followed by his wife, Agnes, another trade union activist, who remained a Member until 1945, an important year for the Labour party.

It was in 1945 that Keir Hardie is said to have reappeared in Abercynon. It was part of a seance. As well as being a christian socialist and a temperance campaigner, he had been active in spiritualism. He is said to have reappeared in July 1945 to give his benediction to the then new Labour Government. I have no reports of anything similar from Nos. 10 or 11, but it is early days yet.

The serious message is clear. The work started and continued by the Hardie family informed then, and still does today, the work of the Labour party and of all people of good will. I do not claim to follow Hardie's spiritualism, and I certainly cannot claim to follow his temperance, but my maternal grandfather did.

Like my predecessors, I am influenced by both the ideas and the organisational responses of Keir Hardie, and he remains a touchstone for us. The Merthyr Pioneer summed up the position when it said on the death of Keir Hardie that

It is that tribute that brings me to pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Ted Rowlands. He was a Member first in 1966 for the seat of Cardiff, North. He became the Member for Merthyr in 1972, and remained as the sitting Member when the seat was extended to include Rhymney.

Ted Rowlands and his wife, Janice, have served our community for nearly 30 years. He also made a significant contribution to the work of this place in that time. As an historian, he has recently written about his view of what was and could be possible by means of educated government intervention. In our local community, we credit him with many acts, not least on a world stage. Contributions that are perhaps not properly recognised are his actions in international affairs and peace, including the avoidance of conflict in the Falklands in the 1970s.

I suspect that when most local people think of Ted Rowlands there are echoes of those words of the Merthyr Pioneer that were said of Keir Hardie in 1915. They would give a similar but extended tribute to him by recording that their Member for humanity has resigned his seat but continues to work with us for our shared goals.

I have already set out the traditions that I hope to follow. They are those of socialists of independent thought giving constructive representation. I come from a

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family of miners and steelworkers, and I know the problems of a household affected by industrial disease, disability and caring. I already have my own small contribution in terms of Labour history in my constituency, because I am the first Labour Member elected this century and the first to have been born and brought up in the constituency that I now represent.

It is a constituency with a history of invention and production that was the crucible of Welsh politics in the past two centuries. Our cultural contribution is known now through sportsmen, musicians, actors, dress designers and writers, who influence others on a world stage. About one fifth of the land mass of the constituency is in the Brecon Beacons national park. We are the gateway to that park and the surrounding country.

We are starting to change from the industries of the past, and unemployment is falling. We are starting to attract and develop the new industries of biotechnology, computing peripherals and support industries, as well as retaining some modern manufacturing and small-scale production companies, along with food preparation and manufacturing and growing tourism. Some of the benefits of relocation and land reclamation, stimulated by government and European Union funding, are starting to change the years of economic malevolence that I have mentioned.

We still, however, have some of the most deprived communities in Europe in terms of health and other social considerations. We are making significant strides in relation to crime and we are improving education standards, but it is clear that poverty is the monster that we must slay. That will be done only by increasing and supporting opportunities for work and social investment.

As a Member elected in a post-devolution environment, I have to comment on how we can make the change that we want. Many of the opportunities that I have outlined require me to work closely with the Welsh Assembly Member who shares my constituency, Huw Lewis, and my neighbouring Labour Members. The opportunities given to us by the massive injection of European funding and matched investment in Wales, together with the other investments controlled at Westminster, give us an opportunity to work together to produce the change that we want.

We know that the strength of our constituencies is that of our people, which lies in both their ingenuity and their spirit. We know also that they are strong communities because they are made from a collective experience and an international brew. They range from Italians "in the rain" through Spanish steelworkers and Irish and Polish people. The list goes on, but they are all Welsh. It is because we represent such an internationalist tradition that we reject doctrines of narrow nationalism, which offer nothing.

I thank particularly my agent, Mervyn Ryall, for his work in helping to get me elected, and my local Labour party for selecting me in our centenary year to continue the history of Labour representation in our valleys. Most of all, I thank the people of the Merthyr, Rhymney, Cwm Bargoed and Darren valleys, whom I shall try my best to represent. We have our shared political and cultural history, but also the cholera and typhoid cemeteries that remind us of the need for measures such as social housing, which we are discussing this evening. There is also the need for investment that can help us to break the cycle of ill health and deprivation.

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Diolch yn fawr i chi a diolch yn fawr iawn, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope to catch your eye again.

8.29 pm

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I congratulate those who have already made theirs, especially the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard), who made such an interesting comparison with what I have heard from the Government Front Bench so far during my time in this place.

I have the honour of having been returned for the Caernarfon constituency, which was previously held by Dafydd Wigley. It is a historic constituency: as Caernarfon Boroughs, it was held by David Lloyd George for 50 years between 1890 and 1945. I can add little to what has already been said about Lloyd George's enduring standing as a statesman of world significance, except to say that my understanding is still developing. He was succeeded by the legal scholar Dewi Seaborn Davies, who was a native of my own home town of Pwllheli and a Member of Parliament for five months only. He was followed by Goronwy Roberts, who won the new post-war Caernarfon seat for Labour in 1945, and went on to serve in the Welsh Office and in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In 1974, the seat was won dramatically for Plaid Cymru by a young Dafydd Wigley, who went on to hold it for the next 27 years.

David Lloyd George was, of course, a Liberal, but at the start of his political career he was leader of Cymru Fydd, a nationalist movement that was a precursor of my own party of Plaid Cymru. Indeed, in that early part of his career, Lloyd George was known in the House as a Welsh nationalist with a small n. Goronwy Roberts was a Labour Member but, early in his career, he was a supporter of the Gwerin movement in Labour, which had both republican and nationalist tendencies—again with a small r and small n. I appreciate that those terms may be foreign to some Government Members.

Lloyd George was later made Earl of Dwyfor, and Goronwy Roberts was later made Lord Goronwy Roberts. Whatever their views, neither had the opportunity afforded to my immediate predecessor Dafydd Wigley, who is now a democratically elected Member for Caernarfon in our National Assembly in Cardiff. I am happy to tell his many friends in Parliament that Dafydd Wigley is well, retains his voracious appetite for work and is prominent in the proceedings of the Assembly. It is an honour and an enormous challenge to follow in his distinguished footsteps.

The Caernarfon constituency is a place of supreme natural beauty. Within its bounds are the many mountains of Eryri, within which is Yr Wyddfa, known to some in the House as "Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales"—very much, I suppose, as Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in England and France. My constituency extends from Y Felinheli in the north-east through to the one-time slate quarrying areas of Rhiwlas, Deiniolen, Dinorwig, Llanberis and Dyffryn Nantlle. It stretches from Beddgelert in the mountains to Porthmadog, with its narrow-gauge railway, which is one of the links between

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my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) who, in terms of our debate, is not a neighbour from hell.

My constituency extends from the historic towns of Cricieth, Pwllheli and Nefyn to Aberdaron at the tip of gwlad Llyn, the western peninsula beyond the mountains, and on to Ynys Enlli, the island which, for centuries, was a place of pilgrimage where 10,000 saints are said to be buried. Returning east through Llithfaen, where the National Language Centre is located at Nant Gwrtheyrn, back past Trefor and Clynnog, we come to Caernarfon itself, where we have the fort of Segontiwm, which was built by some of our early visitors—the Romans—and left by them when they packed their bags in 383. Our castle is a massive and impressive fortress that was built 1,000 years later by some of our other visitors, and is now a world heritage site.

We have a wealth of architecture—contemporary, Victorian, Georgian and earlier—and a commercial and administrative centre that was once thriving, but, more recently, has been in decline. We hope that it is now on the cusp of a revival. But, more than that, we have the living and self-aware community of Caernarfon people, who are resourceful and open-minded, with a ready and engaging wit and an ability to survive. They are known as the Cofis, or rather, we are known as the Cofis, for I have the joy of being a recent recruit.

As is obvious from my remarks, my constituency is one of the heartlands of the Welsh language, which is a living language—not a relic of past—spoken by some 85 per cent. of my electors and 95 per of their children. The Welsh language is alive in Caernarfon; it is under pressure, but fighting back. It is not going to disappear; we are determined that it will not.

As I said, my constituency is an area of astonishing natural beauty; but, as the saying goes, "You can't eat the scenery." We have suffered the historic decline of our extraction industries of slate and granite, and manufacturing is under pressure. It is a particularly sad fact that we have a long-running dispute at Dynamex Friction in Caernarfon, which, I hope, will be resolved soon. Farming is in crisis, despite the unrivalled excellence of our agricultural products—beef and lamb. The majority of farmers are approaching retirement age and farm incomes are low and uncertain. Ironically, those farmers who ventured out and diversified into tourism have been struck again by the crisis in that industry. Tourism is a hugely important industry in my constituency, although too often unrecognised as such; it has been a struck cruel blow by the foot and mouth crisis.

Our long-term economic problems have led to a sustained out-migration of our young men and women, bleeding our communities of our most enterprising people. The rural and the urban parts of my constituency are beset by housing problems. Indeed, the worst housing in Wales, as measured by the National Assembly's index of multiple deprivation, is to be found in the communities in my constituency. Three of the 10 wards with the worst housing in Wales—the first, the third and the ninth—are in my constituency.

Eight per cent. of the Welsh housing stock is unfit—100,000 houses for 250,000 people. We have plenty of houses. We have social housing, but it is the wrong type and in the wrong place. Although we welcome the commitment in the Bill to afford tenants a choice from a

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variety of housing, the ability of local authorities and social landlords to offer that choice has been severely curtailed by years of selling off, and by restrictions on new building and on the power of social landlords to acquire existing houses. As I said, we have plenty of houses in my constituency—good but expensive houses that stand empty, while private tenants endure the worst of bad housing.

We have homelessness—both homelessness recognised and homelessness masked by out-migration. The young people of my constituency have as much right to live, work and prosper in their home areas as have the young people of any other constituency, and that right is not conditional on language or some imagined racial category. I welcome the duties on local authorities to undertake reviews and to prepare strategies to combat homelessness.

On the day of my election, I visited all 84 polling stations in my constituency, though I assure hon. Members that I voted only once. When I arrived mid-morning in the mountain village of Rhyd Ddu, the boyhood home of that fine poet, T. H. Parry Williams, I was welcomed with enthusiasm by the polling officers, who said, "Eleven per cent. have already voted—seven people." Now, those seven voters and all the other electors in my constituency have expectations of the Government, but those expectations are more than tinged with scepticism. There is a growing consensus in Wales, and it is becoming an all-party consensus, that a strengthening of the powers of the National Assembly is essential.

Our aims here as Plaid Cymru Members are—yes—to foster economic development and the prosperity of our constituencies, to improve public services and to press for decent housing for all our people, but also to promote proper powers for our National Assembly, if only for the sake of coherence and efficiency in government. But for us in Plaid Cymru and for the people of Wales, much, much more is at stake. I am proud to commit myself here again today to that aim.

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