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Students at Welsh College Question Two MPs on Health and Education

College students at the Coleg Llandrillo Cymru have recently engaged two politicians in heated debate on a wide range of issues, disabusing the politicians of the oft ““ stated truism that the younger generation does not care for political engagement.

The students were drawn from a wide range of subjects, from Criminal Justice, Law and International Baccalaureate departments. The debate was hosted at the Rhos-on-Sea Campus in the Colleges Conference Centre, and saw David Jones, Conservative MP for Clwyd West and Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs Mr Oliver Heald face questions on language, devolution and health ““ care issues that were exercising the students.

Healthy Debate

One of the questions came from a student who wanted to get his teeth into the issue of dentists on the National Health Service (NHS). The student, an International Baccalaureate student from Llandudno called James Weaver, asked: “There is a considerable shortage of NHS dentists in Wales – how do you think this can be resolved?”

David Jones fielded the question, and replied: “The situation is particularly poor in this area; no dentists in Conwy and Denbighshire are accepting new NHS patients. The problem lies with the NHS dental contract and the opposition to it by dentists in general. They are not happy with what the Welsh Assembly is offering them. In my opinion the Assembly has completely failed on the issue of health.”

Understanding Each Other?

The issue of language skills is a troublesome for the Government, whether it be the belief that language skills will be a key marketable skill for the future economic prosperity of the nation or whether it be the questions raised regarding the change in policy that has abolished the obligation to study a modern language up to GCSE level. A prospective University languages student, Suzy Carter, asked: “Do you agree with the Governments policy that languages should not be compulsory in schools?”

Mr. Heald answered by saying he felt that the Government was “going backwards rather than forwards”, and said: “Its very important that we do have a languages culture in school; the global community is getting smaller all the time. All languages should be encouraged, not just European but Chinese, Indian, Russian etc.”

The MPs

A solicitor and senior partner of a firm in Llandudno, the London ““ born David Jones has been a Conservative activist since he was 18 and was Parliamentary Candidate for Conwy in 1997 and City of Chester in 2001, before becoming a Member of the National Assembly for Wales from 2002 to 2003. In his constituency, the Conservatives are presently campaigning for more police officers, fair play for voluntary hospices, and regeneration work. He was elected as a Member of Parliament in May 2005.

After attending Pembroke College, Cambridge, Mr. Heald contested Southwark and Bermondsey in the General Election of 1987, before being elected as Member of Parliament for North Hertfordshire at the General Election in 1992. In May 2005 he returned for the fourth time, with an increased majority. He is Vice President of two Conservative associations and has held senior positions including Opposition Whip, Frontbench Spokesman for Home Affairs, Frontbench Spokesman for Health, Shadow Work and Pensions Minister and Shadow Leader of the House in 2003.

College students questioning politicians is an encouraging indication that the political disengagement of the younger generations is not complete. How much importance is being attached to events such as this, ahead of the more traditional campaigning priorities of promises in manifestos and kissing babies, remains to be seen.

Jethro Marsh

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