WELSH AFFAIRS – 5 March 2001

Dr Julian Lewis: I thank the right hon. Gentleman [Paul Murphy] for giving way with his usual courtesy. Does he accept that it is not only Conservatives who criticise the operations of the Welsh Assembly? His colleague, the First Secretary, stated in the Western Mail on 10 October 2000:

"The National Assembly is very unstable and far too prone to concentrating on procedural points of order, votes of no confidence and petty wrangling, instead of getting on with the job in hand – that of making decisions."

Does the Secretary of State agree with that?

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[Paul Murphy: I give way to someone who does not represent a Welsh constituency, but we will listen to what he says.]

Dr Lewis: Unlike me, the Secretary of State was not, I believe, born in Wales. Will he, in his great concern for the farming community in Wales, dissociate himself from the remarks of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), who stated on "Farming Today" on 22 March:

"Of course there are farmers in serious difficulties, but I believe they have greatly exaggerated their case. And much of their case is based on distortions or plain untruths."

If that were not good enough, he was also quoted in Farmers Weekly on 4 February as saying:

"And the main reason why there's a large number of suicides among farmers is because they have shotguns handy."

Does the Secretary of State dissociate himself from those remarks?

[Mr Murphy: First, I should like to say that I most certainly was born in Wales. I was born in the parish of Llanbradach, near Usk, which at the time, I suppose, was in Monmouthshire – although in our hearts that was a Welsh county. As for my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West – who has just returned to the Chamber – he himself can reply to the hon. Gentleman's comments after we inform him of them.]

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Dr Lewis: My hon. Friend [Nigel Evans] does not want to mention the Liberal Democrats, but will he allow me at least to ask what he thinks of an electoral system for an Assembly as lacking in a democratic mandate as that in Cardiff, which allows the party that was fourth in the elections to share ministerial-type appointments with the party that was first? Is that fair or democratic? Can we expect more of that from a Government who have such ways of undermining proper representation?

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Dr Lewis: I agree with the general thrust of the right hon. Gentleman's [Denzil Davies's] remarks about excellence in Welsh schools. However, does he not agree that it is rather sad that, over a 20-year period, we have come full circle? After the destruction of so many good state schools and grammar schools in Wales, we now recognise the need to reinvent specialist schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) and I both went to the same state grammar school in Swansea that my father went to in the 1920s. That school went downhill after its grammar school status was removed and now it is closing. Is that not rather sad?