I have written to the Chairman of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, with reference to the council's Third Memorandum, in which proposals were made for radical changes in the system of Government administration in Wales. My letter has been presented as a White Paper, and copies will be available in the Vote Office this afternoon.
The Government's cardinal purpose is to put beyond all doubt that Wales as a nation has a place of its own in the counsels of Britain as well as to frame a system of Government administration for Wales that can be developed to meet every modern need. The Government have come to the conclusion that the main proposal in the Third Memorandum that there should be a Secretary of State for Wales with full executive functions and a separate Department covering a wide range of administrative responsibility will not prove to be the best way of meeting the distinctive needs of Wales. These needs will in our view be better met by retaining the arrangement under which the office of Minister for Welsh Affairs, with a seat in the Cabinet, is held in conjunction with that of Minister of Housing and Local Government. I propose, however, that the Minister for Welsh Affairs shall have the assistance of a Minister of State. This will create a stronger ministerial team for Wales than before; and the new Minister of State will be available to spend most of his time in Wales.
The Government are convinced that it is by practical measures—further devolution and closer co-ordination of Government activities—that the special needs of Wales can best be met. It has therefore been decided that a Committee of the Conference of Heads of Government Departments in Wales, under the chairmanship of the Minister for Welsh Affairs, will be established to ensure co-ordination of the study of economic development, needs and prospects in all parts of Wales.
Secondly, the principal Ministers whose functions cover both England and Wales have at my request been reviewing their arrangements for devolution of responsibilities to their offices in Wales, because the Government endorse the view that, where opportunity offers for improving administration thereby, devolution should be carried further.
We have had a very long reply from the right hon. Gentleman and it is clear that, until we see the terms of his letter to the Chairman of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, it is difficult for us to comment on it. We fully understand that the repeated delay in making this statement—this is the third time the Question has appeared on the Order Paper—is no doubt due to the extreme paucity of Welsh talent on the benches opposite. May we know who is to be the Minister of State to assist the present Minister for Housing and Local Government and Welsh Affairs? May we also ask whether the Prime Minister realises that we take very strong exception to having this extremely important statement made today when the main debate on Welsh affairs during this Session is to take place on Monday?
Of the several questions asked, perhaps there are two which are the most important. First, with regard to the appointment of the Minister of State. That is a matter about which I shall make a submission for approval at the earliest possible moment. Regarding the second question, I had hoped to help hon. Members in the forthcoming debate by having this long statement published and available today.
If I understood the right hon. Gentleman aright, he said that the White Paper would be in the form of a letter he has written to the Chairman of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire whose Report caused consideration to be given to this matter. May I ask whether the letter conveys the final decision or statement of the Government to the Council and whether the arrangements for the debate will be such as to make it possible to discuss the White Paper? Will the Motion be to "take note," because the Prime Minister will realise that we have only a few days in which to consider the statement before the debate takes place?
Since the proposals had arisen from the Council of Wales, I thought the most courteous method was to make the views of the Government known through a letter to the Chairman. I thought it would be convenient to combine the courtesy of writing to the Chairman with the publication of the full letter, which is now available in the Vote Office, so that the two processes of informing the House and answering the Chairman could be achieved at the same time. The character of the debate will arise on the business statement. I am told it is quite possible that it will be in the widest terms.
He will have a general co-ordinating function. He will reside for the most part in Wales. But all the details of this matter would be better discussed when hon. Members have had an opportunity to study the fairly long document which we have prepared and when the debate takes place on Monday.
May I ask whether, as a result of the changes—the totally inadequate changes—which the Prime Minister has announced this afternoon, the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs is to have any additional executive powers? Or is the position—the highly unsatisfactory position—to remain as it is today where, so far as Wales is concerned, he is a Minister with Portfolio but without any power.
I think it would be better to discuss all the details during the debate. A number of proposals have been made for improving the administration in Wales. It would be better to go into this during the full days' debate, when they can be discussed.