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    29 November, 2006

    Queen's Speech

    We debated the UK Government's Queen's Speech yesterday with Peter Hain in attendance and I used the opportunity to raise the issues of the magistrate's court in Llwynypia, policing, digital TV transmission and the Burberry campaign.

    Leighton Andrews: Secretary of State, I also wish to begin by giving Elizabeth my best wishes after her accident. We all hope that she is back on her feet soon.

    During your speech, you referred to the achievement of the Government of Wales Act. It is worth recording that we have passed an Act that puts primary law-making powers for the Assembly firmly on the statute book. We should all endorse and welcome that. However, on another note, I urge you not to give up too soon your right to ensure that Standing Orders are prepared for the National Assembly for Wales, as there are a number of us on this side of the Chamber who would not have any fears if you were to do that.

    A couple of themes in this Queen’s Speech will be widely welcomed by our constituents, such as its emphasis on security and justice, which are of concern to all our communities. In our surgeries, we must all contend with issues of anti-social behaviour brought to us by constituents. I welcome the extra investment in the police, and the additional police community support officers that are being seen in our communities. However, in respect of the administration of justice, I would raise one issue that I would like you to be aware of, Secretary of State, which is the current consultation being held by the magistrates’ courts service in south Wales. I emphasise the important role played by the magistrates’ court in Llwynypia, in my constituency, which is a purpose-built court, with separate entrances for victims and defendants. It plays an important role in the administration of justice, and an excellent victim-support service is also based there. The importance of such courts in the community should not be underestimated if we are to ensure proper access to justice. I want to see that court continuing, and I know that colleagues elsewhere in south Wales are contending with similar issues.

    I would also like to talk about employment and the economy. The reality of any of our deliberations in the Chamber on the economy is not that we are engaged in a debate that cuts Wales off from the rest of the United Kingdom; the reality is that the economic conditions that our constituents contend with are shaped by forces on a global scale, by policies at a European, a UK and a Welsh level. Over the past 10 years, I am pleased that unemployment in the Rhondda has halved and that youth unemployment has come down by three quarters. Gross household disposable income in the Valleys has also increased by 6 per cent over the past eight years. Those are all a tribute to the economic policies that have been pursued.

    However, as you said in your statement, Secretary of State, we do face challenges on a global scale, and the workers at Burberry in Treorchy are facing them at present. I pay tribute to the unions involved in the campaign at that factory, particularly GMB, but also Amicus, which has members there. This is a campaign that has won the hearts and minds of people throughout the Rhondda, and it is not a campaign that people are prepared to give up on. That is why I was keen earlier today to welcome the contribution and support of Ioan Gruffudd, with his request to the chief executive of Burberry to find an alternative course of action.

    There are other issues in the Queen’s Speech that are not devolved issues on which we will have views. Digital switchover is mentioned. Given that Wales will be one of the first places in which analogue television will be switched off, it is important that there is a proper campaign to ensure that people are aware of what needs to happen in that regard. Many of my constituents complain at present that they do not have access to services such as Freeview, and they want to see those services changed.

    I will make one particular point on the media, on the day after the chairman of the BBC departed for ITV. That was a regrettable development and I hope that the UK Government will look at whether a public appointment such as the chairmanship of the BBC should have some restrictions imposed upon it, so that someone who has that post cannot suddenly up sticks and move to work for a commercial broadcaster immediately afterwards. It is a public appointment and there should be restrictions upon it.

    Finally, the Queen’s Speech sets the framework for our elections next year. I have no fear of those elections, and I am sure that my colleagues have none either. We know the choice before us: it is a choice between a Labour Assembly Government working with Westminster or a Tory-led coalition. Bring that fight on.

    Peter Hain responded:

    Leighton Andrews referred to the Llwynypia magistrates’ court, and I will certainly keep an eye on that and be in touch with the Lord Chancellor. I agree with everything that he said about Burberry. I pay tribute to its workforce, the unions—GMB and Amicus—Leighton Andrews and Chris Bryant MP in their fight to keep jobs, and I welcome Ioan Gruffudd’s support in that fight.

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