Government's Legislative Programme

[back to previous text]

Kevin Brennan: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me, because I know that time is short, but did he notice that when I intervened on the hon. Member for Ceredigion he absolutely refused to answer the question about the constitutional aims of Plaid Cymru? Does he agree that it is not good enough to offer people a magical mystery tour in constitutional affairs with a short stop in Edinburgh on the way?

Lembit Öpik: I would defend Plaid Cymru by saying that it does not have to be specific or clear on the subject; that is its choice. However, the public will draw its own conclusions.

Mr. Llwyd: It is rich for the hon. Gentleman to allege that we have swallowed all the SNP's policies. We are two distinct parties. How close is he to the Labour party in Cardiff and Edinburgh? In his own constituency he raises hell about the Labour party, but when he is in the House he sucks up to the Labour party like nobody's business. I say to him, ``Get off your knees.''

Lembit Öpik: I have; it is a miracle; I have stood again.

Slightly regrettably, the hon. Gentleman described the Liberal Democrats as the whores of British politics. There is all the difference in the world between a whore and a co-operative politician who puts the interests of the people of Wales above party political interest when that is the right thing to do. I counsel him to watch and observe the fact that despite the heinous crime that he alleges I committed in the eyes of my constituents, my percentage of the vote went up by 3 per cent. That suggests that there are people in Wales who are willing to give a new kind of politics the benefit of the doubt. I reassure the representatives of Plaid Cymru that I do not condemn them for their position. I simply respectfully highlight the fact that there are those who are confused by the apparent allegiance between two parties that, according to their public statements, have radically different starting points.

As for Conservative policy, the hon. Member for North Dorset made some interesting points about increased expenditure, which would presumably be paid for in some clever way by means of cuts. He mentioned £100 million extra capital spending for hospitals, an extra £25 million for a children's hospital, three extra surgical units and 750 more nurses, but did not explain clearly where the money would come from to pay for them. Perhaps the Conservatives can make a cornucopia of savings but I respectfully suggest that they could make savings in administration only by removing the very administrative burdens that they themselves introduced in their time in government. Their claim does not strike me as logical, or indeed defensible. I hope that the Conservatives can find those savings, and will make them public, because we could then get on with it, implement them and thank the Conservative party, without having to raise taxes.

Liberal Democrats take a different view. We took a risk in the election and spoke to the public as adults: we said to people, ``You get what you pay for. If you want to spend more on services, we'll have to ask you to pay a bit more in tax.'' Our policy of 1p extra on income tax would deliver smaller class sizes, 240 extra teachers, more books and equipment and the abolition of university tuition fees. We are the only party that has clearly costed those policies.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) rose—

Lembit Öpik: If the hon. Gentleman promises to make an intervention lasting no more than 10 seconds, I shall give way.

Mr. Jones: In 10 seconds: on subject of the honesty of the hon. Gentleman's party's commitment, why did the Liberal Democrats never mention to the public—at least in my constituency, and, I am sure, in others—that they intended to bring in an endowment tax to pay for the abolition of student tuition fees?

Lembit Öpik: I generously gave way to him, and the hon. Gentleman will know that we have gone as far with that in Wales as we could get his Labour colleagues to go in Scotland. That is an honest approach to dealing with a pernicious tax on learning in Wales.

The Liberal Democrats were also clear about putting 10p on the top rate of income tax for those earning more than £100,000 a year, to provide 630 extra nurses, 475 extra doctors, 295 other health professionals, including 60 dentists—my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire made clear why that was so important—590 extra hospital beds and the abolition of fees for eye and dental checks. We also said that we would close some capital gains tax loopholes and significantly increase pensions, by £5 a year for single pensioners over 65 and £10 and £!5 for proportionately older pensioners. Those were real promises, with a real price tag—and for the first time in almost two decades, the Liberal Democrats' share of the poll went up, I am glad to say. Add to that our alternative Queen's Speech promise to abolish the Child Support Agency and replace it with family courts, to give young people back the benefits that they have lost, to introduce the same minimum wage for everyone over 16, and a host of other matters, including introducing the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—another Liberal Democrat policy generously donated to the Labour Government. That agenda is true, radical and costed, and it won an increase in the percentage of the vote for the Liberal Democrats.

It is not always easy to be a Liberal Democrat in Wales, but I promise that we shall continue to come up with the sort of radical and positive solutions that I have just outlined. This time the public really did have an alternative to the Government and their Queen's Speech. We are pleased that we made significant inroads in terms of the number of seats, and held our core seats in Powys. We have a vision for a successful Wales that becomes real when one knows how one can pay for it.

I hope that in the coming year we will be the given the chance to go ahead and implement the ideas that the people in this Room agree with, and that party politics will not always get in the way. We hope that organisations with no party affiliation and individuals from other parties, where they agree with our proposals, will help us to implement those ideas. Perhaps for the next 12 months we can do what we all promise, which is to deliver a new brand of politics in Wales that puts the people first. That is the way to increase turnout at elections.

5.51 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): This has been a wide-ranging debate, to which new Members have contributed. Some 16 Members have contributed to the debate altogether.

My right hon. Friend made it clear this morning, in his opening remarks, that this legislative programme focuses on delivering what the electors of Wales wanted most. We have got our priorities right and we will deliver that in this Parliament. The people of Wales want a health service that they can depend on. They want an education service that is life-long and gives every child a real start. They want to be safe and to know that their families are safe. That is why we are taking action to ensure that criminals, particularly drug pushers, will not benefit from their crimes. That is why the flagship Bills in this first Session will deal with education, health and crime.

The health service was founded by a Welshman in the face of fierce opposition from the Tories, and I am proud that the top priority of Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister, for primary legislation is the reform of the NHS in Wales.

Many of our communities have been blighted by petty crime, antisocial behaviour and drugs. Like many hon. Members in the Room, I believe that drug dealers are parasites and the blight of our community. They should be punished, and they should not benefit from the proceeds of their crimes.

The education Bill will promote excellence and diversity, allowing children to develop their talents, and the Bill for the reform and decentralisation of the NHS will give those responsible for providing public services the freedom to tailor them to their needs.

As I said, we have had 16 contributions. I may not be able to get through all of them, but I will try to respond to as many as I possibly can. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy was quite wide-ranging in his contribution and dwelt, in part, on the experience in rural areas. He was right to do that, but I would remind him that between 1997 and 2001 the Government have made available £71 million in agrimonetary compensation and approximately £1 million to help rural businesses. There has also been the small firms loan scheme and the tax deferment scheme.

The hon. Gentleman went on to claim that Welsh GDP was appalling. That is not the case. The latest provisional Office for National Statistics figures show that Welsh GDP increased by 3.5 per cent. in 1996-97, by 5.2 per cent. in 1997-98, and by 3.8 per cent. in the last year for which we have figures, 1998-99.

The hon. Gentleman said that health budgets would be raided in order to obtain match funding for objective 1. Let me remind him what the National Assembly Minister for Finance, Local Government and Communities, Edwina Hart, said at the time of the spending review, when she confirmed that the settlement that the Assembly would receive was good, and would not require the health and education budgets to be raided to provide match funding. Indeed, the July 2000 spending review settlement represented a 5.4 per cent. real terms increase in spending in Wales over the next four years.

The hon. Gentleman complained that there had been a lack of investment in public transport. I would remind him that in the comprehensive spending review 2000, roads and public transport received very significant increases. Roads will get an extra £40 million in 2001-02, £94 million in 2002-03 and £163 million in 2003-04.

My hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams)—I am very pleased to see her back here with a much increased majority—spoke about the fact that across Wales, particularly in the north, the voters have rejected the narrow nationalism offered by Plaid Cymru, the nationalist party of Wales. That is absolutely true. The party came third in my constituency, and just after its leader—he was still its leader last time I saw him—visited my constituency, there was a 34 per cent. swing to Labour. I wish that he would come more often.

I can certainly endorse the points made by the hon. Lady about the university of Wales, Bangor, and the fact that it is a beacon university in terms of encouraging an entrepreneurial approach to the economy. I met some of the staff of the university in north Wales last week, and I was greatly impressed by what I learned from them.

My hon. Friend went on to refer to the dispute at Friction Dynamics in Caernarfon. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met representatives of the Transport and General Workers Union, which represents the work force there. It is certainly with regret that I hear that 87 strikers have received redundancy notices. I urge all sides to maintain dialogue and involve the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service as necessary, as that is the one way to end that awful dispute.

The hon. Member for North Dorset, representing the Tory party in exile, certainly made a speech. It was a little over-long, and sought to create a litany of what he believed were the Government's failings. He simply ignored the fact that, whatever the shortcomings of our party, his was roundly rejected in the general election campaign when it proposed £20 billion of cuts. He referred to problems with NHS waiting lists in Wales, but in the past year there has been a significant reduction of almost 10,000 in the number of people waiting for in-patient and day care in Wales. That is an improvement, and represents movement in the right direction. He also talked about problems with NHS funding in Wales—but since May 1997 the NHS in Wales has received £590 million more, which is far more than the Government whom he supported ever gave to the people of Wales.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth), making, I think, his maiden speech to the Welsh Grand Committee, talked about the need to make the voice of Wales clear in this place. I endorse that. He certainly made clear the voices of his constituents who miss their jobs at Corus and Llanwern, and he has dedicated his efforts to ensure that their voice is not ignored. I share his view that the resource package put together by the Government and the Assembly should be put into use without delay. He also stressed the need for accountability and transparency on public-private initiatives, and I endorse that.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire was worried about the loss of country schools. He highlighted the problems experienced by youngsters at secondary schools who have to travel long distances, and also mentioned the plans to close the GP-led fertility service in his constituency. Of course, those are matters for the National Assembly, but the NHS Bill for Wales will be the chance to highlight how we might tackle such problems in the NHS. I am pleased that he welcomed our success in reducing class sizes. He also mentioned meat imports, which are governed by long-standing European legislation. European instruments are regularly revised and, if anything, strengthened.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis) talked about the social and economic deprivation in his constituency, which he was right to emphasise. I welcome the Community First scheme, which was announced in the Assembly a week or so ago.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) referred to what he described as disillusion rather than apathy at the general election. Whatever it was, we need to tackle it, because we must re-engage as many of our electors as we can, to protect and defend the democratic process. I agree that the Welsh Grand Committee is relevant to the future of Wales. Despite the rhetoric of Plaid Cymru, there is no doubt that the hon. Gentleman's party was roundly rejected across Wales in the general election.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the need for a public inquiry into the foot and mouth outbreak. I refer him to a statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last week. She said that the Government had made it clear that there would be a full inquiry into the matter.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Mon to the Committee. He made a good speech, with important points about the need to create jobs in his constituency. The creation of more jobs and more investment is the No. 1 priority that we have to keep our eye on in Wales, so that we can achieve our goal of full employment.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley referred to the abuse of NHS staff. He is right to highlight that. When we discuss the draft Bill on the NHS for Wales, perhaps that will be taken into account. I hope that it will be. He also spoke about the problems of crime, which I certainly believe that we are tackling. I say to him what I said to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) in the Chamber last week: the Conservative party lost the general election with its campaign for £20 million in cuts, so his conversion to public spending would make even St. Paul blush.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) made some important points about the children's commissioner. There has been a pilot scheme in Wales and in other parts of the country. That is important too.

I welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams), who gave his support to the welfare reforms; I think that he will find a lot of cross-party support. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) expressed concern about crime, and I believe that the Bills that will help with that will come before the House quite shortly. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda made an important point about communication, which is important for Wales. I congratulate the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) on his elevation to shadow Secretary of State for Wales; he certainly does not lack confidence.

This has been a radical and reforming Queen's speech. It underpins the growing partnership between the Government and the Assembly, and will put the people of Wales first. I commend the motion to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the matter of the Government's legislative programme as outlined in the Queen's Speech as it relates to Wales.

        Committee rose at Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Griffiths, Mr. Win (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Brennan, Kevin
Bryant, Mr.
Evans, Mr.
Francis, Dr.
Havard, Mr.
Howarth, Alan
Jones, Mr. Jon Owen
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Lawrence, Mrs. Jackie
Llwyd, Mr.
Lucas, Ian
Morgan, Julie
Murphy, Mr. Paul
Ipik, Lembit
Owen, Albert
Smith, Mr. John
Tami, Mark
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thomas, Mr. Simon
Touhig, Mr.
Walter, Mr.
Williams, Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mr. Roger

Previous Contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 3 July 2001