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6.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): May I at the outset give a temporary welcome to the stand-in on the Conservative Front Bench, the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter)?

The debate has demonstrated again the depth of experience and knowledge of Welsh Members and the importance that we collectively attach to this special day of debate. The first such debate was graced by the words

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of Nye Bevan and I know that all parties in the House will join me in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the new Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who spoke so well today in the tradition of Nye Bevan, outlining the practical politics demonstrated by democratic socialism. His predecessor Sir Ray Powell will be missed, and I join all those who paid tribute to Ray today. He has a fitting successor in my hon. Friend, who in his maiden speech spoke movingly about his constituency and his people, for whom I have no doubt he will be a doughty champion in the coming years. He spoke of the real issues and concerns that affect real people.

This day of debate continues to be an important one for Welsh Members, as demonstrated by the fact that 18 Members have already taken part. Indeed, the Welsh contribution to the affairs of the House continues to grow in importance. Many Conservative Members predicted that devolution would leave Members from Wales with little to do, but the past three years have shown how wrong they are. Devolution has in fact increased the amount of Welsh business in the House. Most major public service Bills, such as those that we recently discussed concerning education and reform of the national health service, contain significant Wales-only clauses, and in the national health service (Wales) Bill, which the Secretary of State mentioned earlier, we shall be discussing a Wales-only Bill. The contribution to the House by Welsh Members remains strong and vibrant and will continue to be so in this, the Parliament of a united Britain.

I thank the spokesman for the main Opposition party, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), for his kind and generous tribute to Ray Powell. As I said, I thank all colleagues for their comments to Ray. I am afraid that afterwards, the hon. Gentleman took the usual tack down hill to one of his rants. He gave us a catalogue of horrors from the national health service and spoke about the problems of waiting lists, but the fact is that more people are being treated by the health service in Wales. One of the things that we shall need to do if we are to tackle the problems of waiting lists and improve the health service in Wales is to put in resources and reform. When we put in the resources, Conservative Members said that we were being reckless. When we proposed the reforms, they voted against the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill. We remember what the Tory years involved in Wales—cuts in the number of doctors, nurses and hospital beds.

The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about the Welsh economy. Like so many Conservative Members, he talks down the Welsh economy. He and the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) talked about the problems that the manufacturing economy in Wales faces. The hon. Gentleman frequently uses cuttings from the Western Mail. I would not be without my cuttings from the Western Mail either. I have a copy of a report published in the business section of the Western Mail, which states:

That is the true picture of the future economy in Wales.

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I note that in this evening's Evening Standard the Governor of the Bank of England has said:

It is important that we all recognise that we have had knocks and job losses in Wales, but it is also important that, rather than talking Wales down, we boost it. We have confidence in a new dynamic and energetic Wales—a Wales that has a rich heritage, a strong economy and a good future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) spoke very well—and authoritatively, of course—on health matters. He welcomed the fact that spending on the NHS in Wales is three or four times above the rate of inflation. He spoke with authority because, as the first Labour Minister in the Wales Office after the 1997, he started to stop the rot in the NHS in Wales that the Tories had left us. We owe him a debt of gratitude for that.

I thank the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) for his tribute to Ray Powell. The hon. Gentleman went on to give a most interesting exposé of the new politics. I do not know much about the Liberal Democrats' new politics, but I know about being the victim of Liberal Democrat tactics. I was the Labour candidate in the 1992 general election campaign, fighting in Richmond in west London, and the Liberal Democrats carried out market research into the fact that I am Welsh. They asked people whether they were troubled that the Labour candidate was from Wales or was Welsh. All their literature throughout that campaign referred to the fact that I am Welsh. That is why I am not sure what their new politics involves.

I will ensure that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) receives a full response to the questions that he has asked. Many of those issues were raised at the evidence sessions of the Welsh Affairs Committee, which I believe will publish its report on objective 1 in October. The key role that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State played in ensuring that additional funding has been provided, through Barnett-plus, to support our objective 1 initiatives must not be underestimated. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the case for recognising structural funds outside the Barnett formula was part of the last spending review. I further remind him that, on that occasion, the Government stood by Wales and provided the extra funding that we needed, despite speculation to the contrary.

At Question Time yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) raised an issue about the cockle fishery problems in Gower. I am aware of that problem. I will take on board the points that he has made and I shall certainly ensure that he is fully involved in any response on those issues that I receive from colleagues in other Departments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones), who does a tremendous job as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, said how well the emergency services responded when he was involved in a near-fatal accident recently. That is the point. When push comes to shove, we have some first-class public services. They are some of the best in the world, and we should be proud of them.

My hon. Friend also made some points about Wrexham gaining city status. I welcome the interest that has certainly been shown in the competition throughout Wales

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for city status. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor hopes to announce the names of the new cities in the United Kingdom in March. My hon. Friend also spoke about the North East Wales institute's hopes of becoming a university, and I wish those involved well in their efforts. I understand the points that my hon. Friend makes about S4C, and I have no doubt that they will be taken on board by S4C in due course. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) recalled our history of environmental impoverishment, which I understand, as I come from the mining valleys of south Wales. My valleys are green again, as are the valleys across Wales, but I share the hon. Gentleman's commitment to ensuring that this gift of nature which mankind has now had a hand in retrieving and improving is made secure. It is right to describe the Welsh environment as one of the jewels in the Welsh crown.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) spoke about issues related to hunting and welcomed the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House today. I share my hon. Friend's concerns about community sentencing and tagging, and I note her points. She has been a strong champion of women's rights, and I take on board her point about how we care for and handle women prisoners in Wales. She also spoke about domestic violence, which is a serious matter. I think that she was the only Member who raised the issue in relation to its effects on children. Too many incidents of domestic violence go unreported. Our clear message must be that domestic violence must be reported so that the services can respond and so that families are protected.

The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) contributed a series of smears and innuendos, to which he may want to return in the debate next week. I noted that he had not been speaking for more than five minutes before he had to start retracting some of his innuendoes, which is not untypical. I also note that he thought of himself as a prodigal son of the Labour party, and talked about socialism. Let me tell him this: when people from my party were fighting fascists in Spain, the founder of his party was declaring his admiration for Hitler and Mussolini.

Adam Price rose

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