Energy Bill

Mr Peter Hain MP (Neath): In achieving the Bill’s aim to deliver secure, affordable and low-carbon energy, there is no bolder delivery vehicle for a greener Britain than Hafren Power’s Severn barrage. The Severn estuary has the second largest tidal range in the world and the Cardiff-Weston barrage would generate fully 5% of the UK’s electricity need—16.5 TWh a year of low-carbon, predictable and therefore baseload energy.

The barrage will power the UK for more than 120 years, cleanly, securely and sustainably generating as much electricity as three to four nuclear reactors or more than 3,000 wind turbines. It injects more than £25 billion of private investment into the UK economy; no Treasury funding is needed at all. With the multiplier impact on the economy, that is a stimulus of about £70 billion.

The barrage will be a massive boost to the economies of south Wales and the south-west of England, with 80% of the investment being spent in the UK; other forms of renewable energy have to date imported up to 80% of their equipment and services from abroad. Some 50,000 jobs will be created during the nine-year build, also leaving a legacy of industrial, tourism and leisure jobs.

Some 1,026 turbines will be installed in the barrage—new, slow-spin turbine technology capable of being exported from Britain to the rest of the world. Gigantic caissons will be built and assembled and then floated out from its deep-water casting yard at Port Talbot, which will be transformative for south-west Wales. The other benefit is a legacy in Port Talbot of the largest deep-water port in north-west Europe, which would be ideal for the new generation of container ships—ultra-large container ships, or ULCs, which otherwise would have to find a port on the other side of Britain.

However, the barrage will not affect existing shipping to other ports, because special locks would enable ships to pass through without charge. Additionally, because of the more benign sea environment in the giant 570 sq km sea lake behind the barrage, there will be enormous new opportunities for marine leisure and commercial activity currently rendered impossible by the Severn’s fearsome current, bringing extra work to ports in both the south-west and south Wales.

Contrary to what critics have alleged, Bristol port will also benefit in other ways from the barrage. During construction over nine years, millions of tonnes of aggregate will be shipped out from Bristol and other ports including Newport, Cardiff and Barry. Compared with previous barrage projects, this one dramatically reduces the impact on fish and birds by using the latest turbine technology and generating on both the ebb and the flood tides, simulating the natural flow of the Severn estuary. There is already a great deal of engagement with wildlife groups to try to configure the barrage in a way that is as friendly as possible to fish and bird life.

The barrage will produce electricity 50% to 75% cheaper than coal, gas, wind or nuclear beyond the initial consumer support phase that all renewable technology attracts. For more than 90 years, it will be the cheapest electricity source in Britain. The barrage has the lowest levelised cost of any electricity generating source—lower than nuclear, lower than wind, lower than gas.

Hafren Power supports the new contract for difference price support mechanism outlined in the Energy Bill. That enables consumers to share in the upside as wholesale electricity prices rise. The barrage will also offset 7.1 million tonnes of CO2 per year; over its life, that has a value of £2 billion in today’s money. It will defend 90,000 properties and 500 sq km of floodplains from rising sea levels, saving the nation billions in flood damage and defence costs. It will protect Bristol, Cardiff, Newport and Weston from storm surges. A storm surge narrowly missed the Severn estuary in 2010; when it hit France, it caused $1.3 billion in damages. Those flood savings can be netted out against the cost of price support. Construction is 100% privately financed, so the barrage will cost the nation very little indeed.

The barrage is the biggest green energy project by far, enabling us to meet our renewable energy targets, as the Bill seeks. It will create jobs and investment; all in all, it should be a no-brainer for the Government. I ask the Secretary of State and the Government to make a decision in the context of the Bill, supporting the barrage in the first half of next year.

Dismal Figures Shows Government Policies Not Working

Neath MP Peter Hain has described the first year figures of the Work Programme as ‘dismal’. The Governments flagship employment scheme which has been running since June 2011 returned twenty people to work in the Neath constituency.

The scheme sees firms and charities paid to help find jobs for the long-term unemployed.

The figures released by the Department of Work and Pensions showed that out of the 850 job referrals in the Neath area only twenty resulted in a job at a success rate of 2.4% between June 2011 and July 2012. The Neath success rate is lower than the Welsh success rate, 3.3%, and the UK success rate of 3.5%.

Commenting on the figures Mr Hain said, “Whilst every person who is returning to employment is welcome news this is a painfully slow process and the longer people are out of work the harder it becomes to find work.

“What the Tory-Lib Dem Government fail to realise with their cuts, cuts and more cuts philosophy is unless they invest in jobs and business then unemployment will continue to be a problem and when people are out of work they are not paying employment tax or National Insurance contributions, so this vicious cycle will continue. In just a few weeks further Welfare cuts will take effect making an already difficult situation for many really dire.”

Local women to bear brunt of Government Cuts

The Tory-Lib Dem cuts are disproportionally affecting women In Neath and surrounding Valleys as they are asked to bear more than seventy percent of the cuts. Shadow Secretary of State for Wales and Neath MP has called the figures “damaging for the progress of the next generation of women.”

Independent research shows men on average will lose £4.20 a week, but women on average will lose £8.80 a week – despite the fact that women still earn less than men. Cuts to child tax credit, childcare tax credit, child benefit all hit mothers hardest. This combined with lower public sector, Carers Allowance payments, cuts to housing benefit and the rise in VAT, this Tory Government propped up by the Lib Dems is just throwing more hurdles in the way of women.

“Women play a vital role in the workplace and at home.” Said Mr Hain “Women have already achieved so much, there is still so much to do but this unfair attack will, I fear, not only halt the progress already made but set it back years. It is likely that their life chances and independence will suffer because of this government’s assault on women and families.”

Maiden Speech

Entering the House after the high profile of a by-election is rather like having been head prefect in primary school, only to be plunged into the obscure anonymity of a secondary school new boy. I am confident that that fate awaits me when I sit down today.

It is an honour and a privilege to represent Neath, or Castell Nedd, whose importance dates from Roman and Norman times, and which has the cosiest town centre in Britain, surrounded by scenic valleys and majestic waterfalls, with, to the west, the a spectacular night-time view of Pontardawe’s unusually tall and striking church spire.
There is a strong sense of community, an immense network of voluntary activity, and a rich culture of amateur opera, music, and male voice and ladies’ choirs. On the eastern tip of the constituency is Richard Burton’s home village of Pontrhydyfen. Amateur sport is widespread—football, athletics and, of course, the best rugby team in country. Recently I was introduced to a class of nine-year-old children at Godrergraig primary school. The teacher said, “Here is a very important person.” One of the nine-year-olds got up and asked, “Do you play rugby for Neath?” That, I thought, was a man who had his priorities right.
I have enjoyed renewing my interests in the game at Neath’s home ground, the Gnoll. In my youth, that interest involved running on rugby pitches, both as a player and, later, in another capacity, which I shall refrain from describing, as this speech is made with your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I am privileged in another way: I follow two Members, both survived by wives still living in Neath. Margaret Coleman is a highly respected figure in her own right in the community. Jenny Williams, now in her nineties, was a much-loved Labour party activist, and wife of D. J. Williams, who hailed from the close-knit village of Tairgwaith in the north-west of the constituency. In 1925, D. J. Williams wrote of the destructive impact of capitalism in the coal industry in terms that remain true today.
Donald Coleman’s tragically premature death was not just a bitter blow to his family; it deprived Neath of a favourite son, and this House of its finest tenor. Although I will do my best to follow in his footsteps as a diligent constituency MP, I am afraid I cannot hope to match his talent for music and song. The exuberance with which he sang and preached his love for Neath reflects the intense civic pride in the town and in the villages of the Dulais, Swansea, Amman, Neath and Pelenna valleys.
But local residents cannot survive on civic pride, mutual aid and mutual co-operation alone. They take great pride in educational achievement. I have met nobody in Neath who cannot remember how many O-levels he or she has. There is a great tradition of skill and hard work in Neath and its valleys. Much has been done in the face of Government indifference and neglect, but so much more could be done if the publicly sponsored investment in industry, infrastructure and initiative for which the people of Neath and its valleys are crying out were provided.
Surely Neath is entitled to the seedcorn investment, decent training provision and long-term loan finance that only national Government or the Welsh Office is able to provide. The old Blaenant colliery site —headgear still erect as a monument to the last pit in Neath; one of over 30 to close in the constituency in the last 30 years —nestles beneath the village of Crynant in the picturesque Dulais valley. The old Aberpergwm washery and pit site is just below the little village of Cwmgwrach in the Vale of Neath. Both are prime industrial sites, yet both stand idle, black and gaunt, their potential wasting away as 11 people chase every job vacancy, training places are cut to the bone, and businesses go bust. Nobody in Neath wants a free ride. People want simply the opportunity to build a new future.
That future must include high-quality health and community care provision. With its history of mining and heavy industry, the people of Neath suffer disproportionately from ill health. With a higher than average proportion of citizens of pensionable age—22 per cent. compared to 17.7 per cent. for Great Britain —there is a particular need for a properly funded health and community care network. Yet the Welsh Office and the Treasury have still not given the go-ahead for the new hospital that Neath so desperately needs, and West Glamorgan county council has been forced, under pain of poll tax capping, to close one of its old people’s homes.
Neath borough council, meanwhile, has had to spend an extra £523,000 on collecting the poll tax, compared with the cost of collecting the rates. On top of this, the borough had to install a new computer system for processsing the poll tax, at a cost of £300,000. Neath’s 16,000 pensioners are entitled to question the priorities of a society and a Government that waste such colossal sums of money while hospital waiting lists grow, and responsibility for community care is unceremoniously dumped on local authorities without the necessary resources to finance it.
How can we claim to be caring for citizens in need when the iniquity of the poll tax continues to penalise them so savagely? Even after the recent £140 reduction in the poll tax, residents in the Blaenhonddan area of Neath will be paying £113.66 a head. This is £85 more, incidentally, than I pay as a resident in Resolven, a few miles up the Neath valley, even though we are paying for the same local authority services, because of the discriminatory way the Welsh Office operates the transitional relief scheme.
One resident in the Blaenhonddan area—a woman from Bryncoch—is caring for her 83-year-old mother who has Parkinson’s disease. The mother has a tiny widow’s pension and has to pay the full £113. Their combined household poll tax bill is £339, yet both she and her husband are on tiny incomes which are so widespread in the Neath area. The hypocrisy of preaching community care while practising such a pernicious policy is not lost on that woman or her neighbours in Neath. Conservative Members who turn a blind eye to her predicament call to mind Thomas Paine’s summer soldier and sunshine patriot who in a crisis shrink from the service of their country.
How can the House claim to be safeguarding the interests of individuals such as a 72-year-old man from the village of Gwaun-cae-Gurwen, where the Welsh language is spoken with pride, whose eyesight deteriorates daily? He has waited 18 months for a cataract operation—a simple, cheap operation. Yet waiting lists for ophthalmic surgery at Singleton hospital have doubled since 1987, and there are now 1,400 local people like him awaiting in-patient treatment. Perhaps most outrageous of all, he was told that he could have the operation next week if he could go private at a cost of £3,000. He might as well have been invited to go to the moon, for that is a sum quite out of the question for someone living on the pittance that pensioners get today. He can be forgiven for noting with anger the grotesque fact that 200 people, just 0.0004 per cent. of the population, now monopolise 9.3 per cent. of the country’s economic wealth—some classless society indeed.
Meanwhile, the quality of the environment and the standard of living continue to deteriorate, especially for our elderly. Local bus services in the Neath valleys have been cut ruthlessly. Fares are exorbitant. Yet who can afford a car on a basic retirement income, perhaps topped up by a miner’s tiny pension? It is difficult enough for senior citizens to pay their colour television licence and the standing charges on their phone, electricity or gas. It is difficult enough for them to find the money to eat properly as food bills rise remorselessly while the real value of pensions declines compared with wage earners.
If Neath’s senior citizens had free bus passes, if standing charges on basic utility services were reduced or abolished for pensioners, if those on low incomes were entitled, like their colleagues in sheltered housing, to television licences for £5 rather than £77, if Neath and Lliw borough councils were not banned by the Government from using their combined housing capital receipts of £7.6 million to build new homes and hit by cuts in housing funding from installing universal central heating and upgrading their existing housing stock, if communities like Cwmllynfell at the heads of the four main valleys in the constituency were not choked by coal dust, disruption and heavy lorry traffic from existing and threatened opencast mines—if all those vital factors were addressed, the standard and quality of life of my constituents would be dramatically improved and, with it, there would be less need to depend upon health and community care provision.
Furthermore, if the curse of “London knows best” were removed, local people would of their own volition radically recast their priorities. That is why decentralisation of power through newly invigorated local councils and an elected assembly for Wales are so vital. That is why a freedom of information Act and an elected second Chamber are so essential. The voice of the people must be heard, not smothered by anachronistic and elitist institutions of Government.
During the last 12 years especially, Britain has become an “I’m all right, Jack” society, putting instant consumption before long-term investment, selfish “mefirstism” before community care, and private greed before the public good. The result is ugly to behold: the tawdry tinsel of decadence camouflaging a society rotten at the roots.
I thank the House for its indulgence or, as we say in Neath, “Diolch Yn Fawr.”