I announced, in reply to a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) on 26th October, that the Government intended to accommodate the Assembly in the Exchange, Cardiff. Completion of the lease is expected by the end of the year.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is general satisfaction in Wales that the new building is likely to be more practical than that previously considered for the Assembly? Will he comment on reports that the detailed agreement cannot be completed until about October of next year? If that were the case, would it permit the Assembly to go into operation in the spirng of 1978 as has previously been anticipated?
It is my intention that the work which is necessary for changing the Exchange building will be completed in good time for when the Assembly comes into operation. I anticipate no difficulty about the lease. It is expected that the contracts for the work will be entered into in the spring of next year, and that will be in good time. I am not aware of any of the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman canvasses.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the satisfaction to which the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) has referred would be more general if the Assembly were to be sited in a more convenient place in Wales—for example, in Mid-Wales, which would be far more convenient for representatives who will be coming from various parts of the Principality? Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that it will be within the purview of the Assembly, if and when Parliament decides that it is to be set up, to have the right to decide where the Assembly should be sited?
I should have said that I am glad that the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) has welcomed the announcement. It will obviously be for the Assembly in due course to decide where it wants to meet. That is the sort of issue on which I expect there to be a great deal of argument from my right hon. Friend and from many other Members who represent other areas. However, Cardiff is the capital of Wales. I regard it as right and proper—I hope that the Assembly will take the same view—that it should meet in the capital city, whatever the convenience of meeting anywhere else.
Without discussing the merits and the nature of the Government's devolution proposals, as there must be uncertainty in view of the precarious future of the Government and of legislation, may I ask whether the Secretary of State thinks it appropriate that the Government should be committed to substantial expenditure in respect of legislation which has not yet been passed?
I have no hesitation in saying that the Government's future is not precarious. The Government will carry out their manifesto and their programme. I should be seriously at fault were I not to make the necessary preparations to ensure that there is a home for the Assembly when it is established.
Will the Secretary of State heed further the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes)? As the Assembly is a new departure, is it not important that the site should be geographically convenient for the whole of Wales? Will the Secretary of State consider the possibility of siting the Assembly at Newtown, where there is a new town development?
I recognise the strength with which the hon. and learned Gentleman is putting forward his case, perhaps with his tongue in his cheek. I am sure that he will be putting a similar case for the siting of the headquarters of the Development Board for Rural Wales. He might have to elect whether the Assembly or the headquarters should be sited there.
asked the Secretary of State for Wales what were the total administrative and physical costs expended before the plans to house an Assembly in the Temple of Peace and Health were abandoned; why the intended capital outlay to house the Assembly has increased by more than £1 million since April; what length of lease, and on what terms, is being obtained at the Exchange; and what is the total anticipated commitment including the capital outlay for the Exchange project.
I understand that about £17,000 was spent by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on studies of the Temple of Peace by consultants, together with a further £7,000 on internal departmental activities. The capital costs at the Exchange are higher because the building is bigger and older; but these costs are largely offset by lower running costs, greater availability of accommodation and other factors. Thus the total costs of the two projects are similar. The current market rental will be paid for the Exchange. The lease is for 20 years but can be terminated after 10 years.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm the lead story—the happy story—in The Times this morning indicating that the Government do not intend to proceed with the devolution Bill becoming an Act without a referendum in Wales? As the Marplan poll made it unmistakably clear that the people of Wales do not want devolution in any form, is it not outrageous not only that these sums should have been expended but, what is more, that at a time when the people of Wales are more concerned about housing their own people millions more should be spent upon housing an unwanted salaried Assembly?
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman take the opportunity of making his own and the Government's total rebuttal of the allegations made by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) in a recent newspaper article that civil servants could not be trusted to run the Welsh Assembly?