Legislative Programme

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Mrs. Lawrence: As Plaid Cymru spokesman, would the hon. Gentleman like to take this opportunity to explain to the Committee something that before the election, the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) promised would be made clear after the election? If Plaid Cymru's policies were followed, how would it make up for the black hole of spending in Wales, compared with taxes raised in Wales? It appears to me that its policies would result in either a 30 per cent. cut in services or a 50 per cent. increase in taxes.

Mr. Llwyd: I am not sure what my hon. Friend said. I hope that he will catch your eye, Mr. Griffiths. He will undoubtedly handle himself as well as anyone in this Committee, and probably better than I shall. I do not know about any black hole, although I know that the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies), who typically is not here today, bangs on about one. According to him, we all have to be on our knees and tied to the British establishment for ever and a day. That is a typical Unionist outlook and not very sustainable. It does not make a great deal of sense either.

Albert Owen (Ynys Mon): The hon. Gentleman said that he did not recognise a black hole, but he talked about progressive taxation and a 50 per cent. increase for those earning above £100,000. How much would that raise per annum and what would it be spent on?

Mr. Llwyd: It would raise £5.7 billion, which would obviously be spent on public services. [Hon. Members: ``In Wales alone?''] No, that would be half the budget of the National Assembly. Those are UK figures; Welsh figures cannot be separated from UK figures.

The agricultural sector is vital to the economic development and the sustainability of our rural communities. It is in the grip of the worst crisis for generations. It has been hit by disasters such as BSE, and more recently foot and mouth. Agriculture, although on its knees, is still resilient, but it has to battle against an unfavourable exchange rate and is unable to export stock. Moreover, it has not received the full value of its subsidies because of the pound-euro exchange rate. We should not lose sight of the fact that even before the foot and mouth crisis, 73 farming jobs were being lost each week. That is the equivalent of a major factory closing each year. Average incomes from farming activity in the UK were recently assessed at £4,500. The average for upland farmers, who account for 80 per cent. of Welsh farmers, was even worse at £3,800. I dread to see the figures once the full impact of foot and mouth has been felt.

We must realise that agriculture is not an isolated industry, but one that encompasses the whole rural economy. Its problems affect other rural businesses and can trigger a downturn in the rural economy, which, I am afraid, we are seeing in many areas of Wales. I hope that Ministers will consider proper and consequential compensation for both farmers and others who operate rural businesses.

The agricultural sector is vital, and we must protect it at all costs. Plaid Cymru's view is that farming must be supported and succeed in the framework of an integrated rural development policy. Elements such as renewable energy, sustainable forestry, cultural heritage tourism and other forms of diversification should be central in such a policy. We need a real and non-political debate about the topic, because we are all concerned. We should get together, forget political differences and discuss the points. As we speak here in Westminster, the situation in rural Wales is desperate.

Plaid Cymru calls for alternative indicators in addition to gross domestic product, such as the index of sustainable economic welfare, as tools to measure the contribution of the sector to the Welsh economy. Such indicators would give a far better reflection of that contribution. The Agriculture and Rural Development Committee in the National Assembly recently recommended the implementation of a young entrants scheme. The Farmers Union of Wales wants to introduce an early retirement scheme for older farmers, linked to a new entrants scheme to encourage young people to become farmers. Such schemes exist in many European Union states but the Government have refused to implement one in Britain.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman point out to members of the farming unions that the quota system makes it extremely difficult for young farmers to come in and, to the Farmers Union of Wales in particular, that adherence to the quota system is counterproductive to its aim of getting young farmers to enter the industry?

Mr. Llwyd: Yes, I hear the hon. Gentleman. His is a fair point, and last year I visited the EU official who dealt with the new sheep quota regime to make that point, because it impacts heavily on us in Wales, with 25 per cent. of the sheep flock affected. More importantly, the hon. Gentleman is right about the specific point that it makes life difficult, if not impossible, for young entrants.

I return to an early retirement scheme linked to young entrants. A recent fact-finding visit by the farming unions to Ireland discovered that 10,000 farmers had taken advantage of the scheme there, which reduced the average age of farmers from 57 to 50. We should do everything that we can to help young people stay in farming, and we were disappointed that there was no reference to that in the Queen's Speech. There should have been, because the problem is not simply in rural Wales; it is a UK-wide problem. We are disappointed that there was no mention of rural problems or answers for rural businesses, in particular the farming sector.

Lembit Ipik: The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that I repeatedly raised that point in the Agriculture Committee in the previous Parliament. Is he aware that the Minister has consistently given all kinds of reasons why we could not implement the scheme? That seems to fly in the face of reason, given the fact that many of our European colleagues have done exactly what the hon. Gentleman and the Liberal Democrats have called for.

Mr. Llwyd: That reinforces the point. However, when we discuss the scheme—and, hopefully, implement it, we should not predicate it on linking farms, because that would make rural depopulation worse. The point has been made, and I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments.

Europe affects every business, in particular the agriculture industry in Wales. In the coming months and years, I hope that there will be a definite steer from Government on the subject, because the lack of that is having a detrimental effect. Companies such as Ford have made it clear that they are staying and continuing to invest only because they presume that the United Kingdom will adopt the euro within the next few years. I hope that when the time comes we have a mature and sensible debate, led not by politicians but by academics and economists who are knowledgeable about such matters. There should not simply be a political debate. [Hon. Members: ``That is worse.''] Perhaps it is bad, but I do not see how it could be worse than a political debate.

In addition to agriculture, the tourist industry is in a crisis because of the impact of foot and mouth and the problem of the euro. Tourism is the largest industry in Wales; about 100,000 are employed directly and 25,000 indirectly in the tourist industry, which is far larger than any other industry in Wales. Spending by overnight and day visitors to Wales contributes about £2 billion directly to the Welsh economy, which is equivalent to about 7 per cent. of gross domestic project. Tourism is a major industry and I hope that once the impact of foot and mouth has passed we can concentrate our efforts on improving the tourism industry in Wales.

I refer to the visit to the United States by the Welsh Affairs Committee, many members of which are in the Committee. We saw that much work needs to be done in the United States to put Wales firmly on the map. We are well behind our partners in the rest of the United Kingdom in that respect, although there is some improvement in that respect.

At present, tourism in Wales is in a bad way. Rural tourism losses in February and March were about £5.6 million a week, rising to £15 million in April and to £18.7 million in May. The income of many tourist businesses is down by about 75 to 85 per cent. Some of those operators are farmers who diversified; they have gone from the frying pan into the fire. I hope that we can concentrate on that sector in the coming months and years, for the good of Wales.

The Queen's Speech was disappointing for Wales. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister said that new Labour would have to be far more radical this time. What is in the Queen's Speech is not a radical agenda for the future of Wales; despite a further pledge on the commitment to devolution, there are no developments apart from those referred to by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): I realise that the hon. Gentleman has not yet concluded his speech, but he has not referred to education and public-private partnerships. We heard earlier that the leader of Caerphilly county borough council, Lindsey Whittle, a Plaid Cymru member, is a firm advocate of public-private partnerships in education. Does the hon. Gentleman support or condemn him?

Mr. Llwyd: I was at the launch of that PFI project, unlike the hon. Gentleman, who should have been there. The project involves only the building of two schools—that is the top and bottom of it.

Mr. David: On a point of order, Mr. Griffiths. The hon. Gentleman referred to an event in my constituency to which I was not invited.

Mr. Llwyd: Well, there we are! I found myself there. I must put the record straight: that project, a PFI initiative, involved the building of two new schools, one Welsh-medium school and one English-medium school. People said, ``If we don't do it this way, we will never have a new school.'' The hon. Gentleman appears to be saying that I am at sea in some way, but my point is about sponsorship; it is the McDonald's idea that I am concerned about, and the Coca-Cola and Mars companies moving into schools. I cannot think of anyone else who would want to move in and have a say. That is undoubtedly what is at the back of the Cabinet's mind.

 
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