Hywel in Parliament - Debates

Budget Statement

24th April 2002

Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon): I warmly welcome this Budget, with its commitment to fairness and enterprise, for three reasons, all of which relate to a commitment to social solidarity. First, the rebuilding of the NHS is essential to the people of Wales. Secondly, the specific commitment to fairness is welcomed by those of us in Wales who are committed to building a fairer and more socially just society. Thirdly, it is a reaffirmation of the modern, social democratic values that are so important—to Wales, Britain and Europe.

The massive investment in the NHS strengthens the principle of health care being universally available and free at the point of delivery. The Budget's commitment to the NHS is deeply rooted in the social history of Wales—the liberalism of Lloyd George and national insurance, and the community socialism of Aneurin Bevan's Tredegar Medical Aid Society. For at least a moment, this Budget draws a line under the unwarranted attacks on the NHS since its inception in 1948. The people of Wales welcome it for that reason, not least because of the disproportionate scale of ill health in our communities—for example, one in four adults in Wales suffer from arthritis.

The Budget emphasises using enterprise and sound fiscal policies to build a fairer society, tackle pensioner and child poverty, increase employment opportunity for all, deliver high-quality services and protect the environment. It reminds everyone, if they need reminding, that this is a radical and reforming Budget from a radical and reforming Government.

To illustrate that important commitment, let me give hon. Members one example. I refer to community rebuilding through support for voluntary organisations, and specifically community amateur sports clubs. I have recently spoken to people in several sporting organisations in my constituency, who remind me of the time when I wrote a history of Seven Sisters rugby club—my local club—appropriately called ''Magnificent Seven''. Sport plays a large part locally in the development of active citizenship, improving health and enhancing social cohesion.

At Glyncorrwg last weekend, I met the bowls, rugby and soccer clubs. At Skewen, I recently met the rugby club, the Monkstone sailing and cruising club and—most important of all, of course—Aberavon rugby football club, whose tie I proudly wear today. They all play a central role in community capacity building, and welcome the Budget commitment to their activities.

By contrast, I look forward to the next spending review and Budget achieving fairness and greater opportunities for homeless young people. While housing is a devolved matter and the Minister for Finance, Local Government and Communication, Edwina Hart, is dealing with it with imagination and passion, we in Westminster have a responsibility to assist young people who have no homes of their own.

Recently, the all-party group on children in Wales, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan), met two young people from the Bays project and their support agencies from Swansea, who identified two basic problems: an unfriendly benefit system and a need for the Government to take their parenting role more seriously. Those young people have produced a video called ''Cold Light'', made by Kickstart Films, which has the emotional impact of ''Cathy Come Home''. Young homeless people need to be assisted from a state of barely surviving to a state of living with some dignity. I urge the Chancellor in his next spending review to reconsider the low rate of entitlement up to 25, the difficulty of claiming benefit at 16 and 17, the single-room rent restriction and the fact that benefit for young people in full-time education ceases at 19, when so many of those who have been homeless start their education much later than that.

Julie Morgan: I am sure that my hon. Friend remembers one of the young people saying that a loaf of bread costs the same whether one is 16 or 26.

Dr. Francis: Yes, indeed. Young homeless people are probably the most besieged section of our community. Let us make it a priority, in the spirit of fairness and enterprise, that in the next spending review as much importance is attached to their needs as to the abolition of child poverty.

My final reason for supporting the Budget is that it represents the antithesis of what happened in France at the weekend. The values of social democracy are deeply embedded in Wales, and in Britain and Europe as a whole. Those values are based on social solidarity, citizenship and internationalism. I despise the racist and neo-fascist slogans, ''France for the French'' and ''Wales for the Welsh''. The Chancellor's Budget reminds us of our duties to one another as citizens, and I warmly welcome it as a great Budget for the people of Wales and as a measure as significant as Aneurin Bevan founding the national health service in 1948.

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